The trial of an 81-year-old ex-Stalinist agent accused of deporting hundreds of Latvians to Siberian gulags began last week only to be postponed less than an hour later when the defendant claimed he was too sick to stay in the courtroom.
Nikolai Larianov is accused of signing orders in 1949 that led to the deportation of some 500 Latvians. Most of his victims were from the Talsi and Ventspils regions and included children and pregnant women, prosecutors said. Many died at camps in Siberia, said prosecutor spokeswoman Dzintra Subrovska.
The hearing in a district court in Jelgava, some 50 kilometers south from Riga, began Sept. 11 but was adjourned when Larionov complained that he was too ill.
A panel of doctors recommended the court not keep Larionov, who suffers from high blood pressure, in a courtroom for more than one hour at a time, court officials said.
The trial is scheduled to continue on Sept. 23.
"He is sick, he spends most of his time in the hospital, so it's really hard to say how long this will take," said Andris Skutins, a spokesman for the Zemgale District Court.
Larianov is not in custody but remains under constant police surveillance, Skutins said.
The case has been repeatedly delayed, mostly because of his illness, since prosecutors pressed charges against him in the late 1990s.
It was further delayed when a court in Riga, where Larianov lives, announced it was overbooked and asked the Jelgava court to hear the case.
Larionov is the sixth ex-KGB or Soviet agent indicted by Latvian courts for taking part in mass deportations.
Three men have been convicted. Alfreds Noviks, head of the Latvian NKVD, a predecessor to the KGB, was sentenced in 1993 for directing the 1949 wave of deportations. He died in prison.
Mikhail Farbtuhs, the former Daugavpils NKVD chief, and Yevgeny Savenko, a senior NKVD investigator, were convicted in 1999 for their roles in 1940 deportations. Farbtuhs spent nearly two years in prison before being released on health grounds earlier this year.
Savenko spent about a year in pretrial and posttrial detention but was released in 2001 when an appeals court reduced his initial two-year sentence.
Another ex-Stalinist agent, Vasily Kirsanov, died in 2000 before a trial against him finished.
Prosecutors also indicted Nikolai Tess, 81, in 2001 for his role in mass deportations, but his trial has also been delayed by health reasons.
Russia has been critical of the trails, denouncing them as "witch hunts" motivated by revenge.
But Latvian historians say they are necessary to shed light on Soviet-era crimes and bring alleged criminals against humanity to justice.
"(Soviet) crimes have not been widely tried, these people have not been called to account for what they did, and as long as there's sufficient proof to support charges, then the trials should go on," said Valters Nollendorfs, director of the Occupation Museum of Latvia in Riga.