Ex-mayor charged in Swedish ship case

  • 2001-12-13
Former Riga mayor, Maris Purgailis, has been indicted for negligence in a case concerning a Swedish ship cut into scrap metal in Latvia several years ago, the Prosecutor General's Office reported last week. The Swedish company Swembalt AB, the owner of the ship, has also asked the Swedish courts to recognize the international arbitration court award against Latvia.

Prosecutor Edvins Piliksers said Purgailis, who was mayor from 1994 to 1997, should have arranged for a court proceeding to contest the lease agreement illegally made with Swembalt in 1994 about mooring the ship at a certain location in Riga.

The mayor had also failed to ensure competent participation of city council representatives in the negotiations about the ill-fated ship organized by the Latvian Foreign Ministry.

As the Riga port board chairman, a title that comes with mayor, Purgailis had neglected to annul illegal orders on the forced sale of the ship and to put the issue before the port board, thus giving the Swedish company something to build its claim on.

The prosecutors decided not to bring charges against two more Riga City Council officials, whose actions were investigated in relation to the Swedish ship.

Earlier negligence charges were also brought against Riga port first deputy manager Andris Dumpenieks and former Transportation Ministry Ship-ping Department deputy director Laila Medina.

Charges against former Riga port manager Gunars Ross were dropped on his death, but the actions of several more officials are still being investigated.

The so-called Swedish ship case became public knowledge when the international court of arbitration ruled that Latvia had to pay to the Swedish company over $3 million in damages.

Swembalt towed the ship, the Feederchif, to Riga in 1993 with the purpose of establishing a trade and recreational center on board the vessel. In 1996, after the owners had failed to return to Latvia after repeated requests to do so, the vessel was in danger of sinking, so it was resolved to cut it into metal scrap.

The owners were given some time to come forth and claim the ship, but there was no response.

Afterwards Swembalt turned to the courts, however. Latvia has not made any payment yet, hoping that the Danish court will find the arbitration court award invalid.

Some Latvian officials claim it was a case of fraud on the part of the Swedes. But the Swedish government has on various levels pointed out to Latvia on several occasions the need to abide by international legal principles and pay the adjudged damages.