Latvia vs. Lavent: a never-ending story

  • 2001-08-16
  • Rita Bubina
RIGA - The trial of former head and owner of the collapsed Banka Baltija, Alexander Lavent, which has been dragging on for over four years, was postponed again this week as the defendant failed to arrive in court due to illness.

Lavent is charged with damaging Latvia's monetary system, misappropriation of property and other crimes relating to the collapse of the bank in June 1995. The bank's debts totaled $400 million.

The ex-banker has been in hospital since Sept. 5, 2000, when he collapsed in Riga Regional Court after judge Inara Steinerte cut him off during his closing speech. She said he was threatening the court and deviating from the subject.

Since then, the trial has been unable to start again due to Lavents' poor health condition. He has spent the last nine months in the private Linezers Hospital, which refuses to transport him to the court or let the trial be held at the hospital.

"I have not yet received an official request from the court to hold the trial here. Besides I don't know what does it mean to have a court process at the hospital. What kind of room is needed? Do we have to build a cage for the defendant?"Linezers director, surgeon Viesturs Boka, told journalists last week.

"You can't cure people in one room and try them in another, this is immoral,"he protested.

Steinerte has asked the central prison administration to find another hospital which would allow the trial to be held in situ. Four of the hospitals in Riga that have the necessary medical equipment needed to treat Lavent have refused. Stradina Hospital is still considering the proposal.

Lavent has allowed Aivars Lejnieks, Linezers Hospital's chief doctor, to discuss his medical records with journalists. According to Lejnieks, Lavent has coronary heart disease and pneumonia. During his stay at Linezers Lavent's health has not improved.

Doctors said this is because of permanent stress, depression and emotional blackmail connected with the trial.

Lejnieks could not give a date when Lavent may be able to stand trial.

"Patients with such a diagnosis as Lavent's will need medical help until the end of their days,"said Lejnieks.

Lavent pays around 1,000 lats ($1,600) per month to the hospital, Boka said. "He has no discounts, and pays the same price as any other patient - 20 lats for his private room and 13 lats for a room for his prison guards,"Boka said.

In addition to that he has to pay for the treatment as well. Lavent's lawyer told the daily Diena that she did not know where the money he pays to the hospital comes from.

Before Lavent's health problems started, the trial was almost completed. He still has to finish his last word, and the other defendants, Banka Baltija President Talis Freimanis and lawyer Alvis Lidums, have to read their last words. The court then has to announce a verdict.

Lavent's case was accepted at the European Court of Human Rights in June, as he claimed to have been the victim of persecution by the state since his arrest nearly six years ago.

The deadline for a settlement to take place between Lavent and the Latvian state is Sept. 10. If the court decides in favor of Lavent, the Latvian government will have to satisfy his claims and pay compensation.