Jailed Latvian cyclist released on bail

  • 2002-07-04
  • Geoffrey Vasilauskas, VILNIUS
Latvian cycling star Juris Silovs was released from 10 weeks' pretrial detention in Lithuania last week after an appeal court released him on bail pending a full appeal hearing.

The former Olympic sprinter who recently left France's Cofidis team covered his face during the hearing and wept as his handcuffs were removed.

The cyclist was released after agreeing to pay bail of 20,000 litas ($5,700).

He was originally sentenced to five years in prison for attempting to cross Poland's border into Lithuania last October without declaring $80,000 in cash. At that hearing he found little sympathy for the fact that he had legally earned the money at Cofidis, or for his claim that no one made him aware that it was necessary to declare large sums at the border.

Drying his eyes he told reporters that Lithuanian prison food wasn't fit for pigs and that prisoners were given a single small fish per day to meet their protein requirements.

His detention at Pravieniskiu correctional colony and then Lukiskiu prison in Vilnius since April 11 prompted outrage in Latvia, with one newspaper, Vakara Zinas, urging readers to boycott Lithuanian products.

Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus has publicly committed himself to granting Silovs an amnesty if his appeal proves unsuccessful.

Lithuania's media have also been sympathetic.

In addition to his imprisonment the Kaunas judge ordered that his two automobiles and the "smuggled" money be confiscated.

Customs officials found the money in Silovs' automobile where he had made no attempt to hide it.

The appeal court last week ordered further investigation by the prosecutor in Marijampole, near the customs post where Silovs and his friend Andris Spehts were intercepted on April 11.

Specifically, the court ordered a detailed assessment of how the border crossing is administered.

A full appeal hearing has been delayed while the Constitutional Court hands down a ruling on the constitutionality of laws involved in the case, including Article 45 of the criminal code which limits judges room for maneuver when handing down sentences in contraband cases. Those found guilty in such cases must receive jail sentences of between five and 15 years, Article 45 states.

The appeal court suggested this might violate the suspect's right to a fair trial.

Silovs left Cofidis due to deterioration in his performance which commentators link to an assault he suffered in his native Dobele which caused him to fall into a coma. His speech and mental processes have been impaired since the assault, according to Arturs Vaiders, sports editor for Latvia's newspaper Diena.