Aivars Lembergs: Bordāns and Jurašs have already announced what the judgment should be in my case

The adversarial principle granted by law in criminal proceedings in Latvia is fiction; human rights are ignored in criminal proceedings; Minister of Justice Jānis Bordāns and Chairman of the Legal Affairs Committee of the Saeima Juris Jurašs, by expressing threats to the judge of Limbaži court, have given a clear hint of how severe will be the reaction of two members of the Judicial Council to the court composition of the so-called Lemberg case if it dares to pronounce an acquittal – more on this and other topics in this interview Ventspils Mayor Aivars Lembergs had with Neatkarīgā, which took place after he had said the last word for as long as the court allowed (i.e. four court hearings).
19.02.2021. Uldis Dreiblats, Ritums Rozenbergs
ON MONDAY, the court will announce the summary judgment in the 12-year, 6-day trial named after Aivars Lembergs ©Dmitrijs SUĻŽICS, F64 Photo Agency

You have been in intensive litigation for 12 years since February 16, 2009, but it will be 22 years on May 24 since criminal proceedings were instituted against you. How have you felt during this process?

Indeed, the duration of these criminal proceedings has been 22 years. The first request for legal aid as part of this process was sent by the prosecutor's office in 1999. As early as the first half of 2000, two prosecutors, independently of each other, found no evidence of a criminal offense and decided to refuse to institute criminal proceedings. These two decisions are still in force, but this did not prevent the criminal case from being reopened, even without revoking the two decisions. Conclusions. First of all, in Latvia, the criminal proceedings can be neverending, because the law limits only the time in the pre-trial proceedings for the seizure of property and security measures, however, the duration of the criminal proceeding itself is not limited. Thus, criminal proceedings serve as a means to achieve political and business goals if the prosecutor or the prosecutor's office is working in the interests of one political group, as is the case in my situation.

Secondly, the adversarial principle does not apply in Latvian criminal proceedings. It is said that Latvia is a democratic country because the principle of adversarial proceedings is in force in criminal proceedings. But is it really? You cannot appeal to anyone the initiation of criminal proceedings. In the pre-trial process, the prosecutor can interrogate an unlimited number of witnesses indefinitely, gather evidence - you are not informed at all. When, as in my case, you are charged in 2008 and you say that you want to look at the charge and give testimony, the prosecutor denies you this opportunity and takes the case to court. And the court accepts the case for trial, without assessing whether or not there is a prima facie evidence. When you say at the first hearing that you do not understand the charge because it is abstract, vague, one part of the charge contradicts another and so on, and you specifically indicate what you do not understand, the court tells you that it has no right to interpret what was written by prosecutors.

The case is sent to the court not together with all the evidence collected during the pre-trial proceedings, but the case is divided, placing only the evidence that is beneficial to the prosecutors in the case that was split off from the main case. The old main case, which remains with the prosecutor's office, is considered a secret of the investigation - in my case, even now - so you and your defenders can't access it. In my case, the criminal proceedings with final digits 3205 /Prosecutor General Jānis Maizītis in 2005 called it a case of Ventspils officials - R.R, U.D./ is still under investigation by the Prosecutor's Office. There are accusations not only against me but also against Mamerts Vaivads, Gita Grasmane and Laimonis Junkers, who has already passed away. That case is sitting there and waiting for the other defendants to die too.

So in your case, the division of the criminal case is a mechanism for significantly complicating the defense?

Of course! This is how the “adversarial principle” in criminal proceedings is manifested in Latvia, it is one of the examples of why the adversarial principle in criminal proceedings in Latvia is fiction. The prosecutor conceals evidence that refutes the charge in another criminal case but you can't get to it. Another example is that the prosecutor can submit any number of witnesses when taking the case to court, and they do not have to justify why this or that witness is called. On the other hand, the defense, when submitting its witnesses now only in court, has to defend the application of each witness, thus revealing the position of its defense. Prosecutors may also ask witnesses to be questioned again and no objections are raised. In my case, 100 people were questioned as witnesses of the prosecution, while only 3 were questioned as defense witnesses. Proportion 33 to 1 in favor of prosecutors is a clear illustration of this "adversarial principle". I was not allowed to interrogate twenty witnesses of the accusation, including important ones, such as Ainārs Gulbis, Jūlijs Krūmiņš, Rudolfs Meroni, Māris Forsts and many others. As another example, the prosecutor sends you to court, accompanied by an unlimited amount of evidence that they deem necessary to prove the charge. In order for the defense to add any evidence, you or the lawyer must justify why the particular evidence is to be added to the case, and thus show the defense's position before the debate. In my case, prosecutors were able to read their requests from the first to the last page. If I made a request, I was not allowed to read the motivation part, just the very end, basically - just say what you want. Prosecutors gave an indictment for however long they wanted. It was restricted for my defenders. The prosecutor could reply however long they wanted. My defenders were limited in time. I could also say the last word only for as long as the court considered it necessary. In Latvia, the adversarial principle is absolute fiction.

The whole criminal process is focused on making the accused lose.

If he does win, then it means that the accusation had truly grand mistakes.

Was there a specific purpose in creating such criminal proceedings?

Criminal proceedings law for all these 16 years since it was in force /In 2005, the Criminal Procedure Law was adopted in place of the Criminal Code, the new law earned both praises from foreign embassies and harsh criticism from jurisprudence specialists - R.R, U.D./, is constantly being changed for the detriment of defense. The main problem - the work of the prosecutor's office and the prosecutor is not controlled and supervised by anyone. If you are complaining about a prosecutor, your complaint will be examined by the same prosecutor you are complaining about. The Prosecution Office is the only public body whose activities you cannot appeal to anyone within the framework of criminal proceedings. If someone has connections in the Prosecution Office, then they can settle any issue. This has been the case so far.

After watching this process from the sidelines for 12 years, it was clear that it often did not involve a logical assessment of arguments, but open expressions of hatred against you, first and foremost by the leader of the public prosecution team. We have also been told by lawyers that in no other case have they encountered such hostile treatment from prosecutors. What have you done to prosecutor Juris Juriss?

He enthusiastically condensed the many indictments and episodes into the case, creating more than 100 volumes. He did this in order to give the matter pomposity, special importance - "unprecedented case in history". He saw this case and still sees it as an opportunity to build a career. He's not wrong in this regard. If he had not been the prosecutor in this case, Bordāns would not have pushed him to become Attorney General. By his actions in the criminal proceedings, including allowing the confiscation of the seized property, Juris Juriss gained /the current ruling elite's/ political favor. During the last two Saeima convocations, Rudolfs Meroni was the main financial benefactor for the Zatlers' Party, the Artuss Kaimiņš's Party, the New Conservative Party and possibly others. You scratch my back and I'll scratch yours. Juris Juriss covers Meroni, Meroni “greases” the New Conservative Party and the Kaimiņš' Party and before that other parties too, resulting in a match-up conglomerate where, on the one hand, political parties are interested in beating Lembergs as an opposition and political competitor, but on the other hand, there is a group that wants to steal something in the process. The match has been fruitful for everyone, including Juris Juriss, who almost became Attorney General.

But in the end, he didn't.

But it was very close. We will see if he will become one in the next cycle because his political merits are obvious. You cannot complain about this situation to anyone. You can complain to the European Court of Human Rights, but it is likely to reject the complaint, saying that there is no final judgment in the criminal case /that is considered in that country/. It has been 12 years in my case, and it will be the same until the case goes through the remaining instances. In the meantime, part of the participants in the process will be dead.

Watching the trial, it seemed as if the former chairman of the court, Boriss Geimans, had someone standing behind him and banning you from speaking in the courtroom. Judge Irīna Jansone has her own work style, but even until the last court hearing the feeling still remained that the judge is forced to consult an unknown person on the most important procedural issues?

There are several possibilities. The first, most favorable, is that the court composition, at the very beginning of the trial and after hearing the witnesses, became fully convinced that the case was unfounded and that an acquittal should be made, and that is why everything should be done as soon as possible. It must be done in disregard of the rules of criminal procedure, including the rights of the accused and his lawyer, but with strict adherence to the rights of the prosecution so that the prosecution has no reason to appeal. The second option is the other way around, and it is much worse. For now, we cannot say which of these options is true.

However, in general, we did not notice any open hatred of you from the court. Have you also been granted permission to travel abroad during these 12 years?

Almost always.

If you had left politics behind, would this process have continued?

Being unable to deal with me politically, the current government turned to the Americans for help, and they imposed national sanctions on me. It has been 14 months since then, and no evidence has been presented not just to me, but also to the Government of Latvia, the President of Latvia, the Prosecutor's Office, the KNAB, the State Police, as of their claim that I have expropriated. It is alleged that I expropriated and that the state granted me something; that I have illegally won the procurement of natural resources; that I have corrupted law enforcement officials; that everyone knows that I paid them and they are doing something on my behalf. It is, of course, to put it mildly, completely made up. As in this criminal indictment, it is stated that I have caused significant damage to the order of state power and administration, but it is not indicated exactly what damage has been done.

By imposing American sanctions, I was given a signal through certain people - I was told that I had to walk away from political activity. I have been told and warned about this since 1999 - if not a hundred times, then tens of times. I was also told that the case against me would be closed if I gave incriminating testimonies against specific politicians in the parties Latvijas ceļš, the Union of Greens and Farmers /Zaļo un zemnieku savienība, ZZS/, against politicians Andris Šķēle and Ainārs Šlesers.

At the last press conference, you mentioned that a high-ranking Russian official came to the head of the Latvian government 15 years ago and said - what are you standing on ceremony with Lembergs for, do as we do with Khodorkovsky, arrest him, and everything will be fine.

This was Sergei Prikhodko, head of the press service of the Russian president, and he told this to Aigars Kalvītis.

Why did Russia want to take revenge on you 15 years ago?

I don't think they wanted to take revenge on me. Russia's understanding of how to deal with awkward political competitors was simply expressed. Currently in Latvia this idea is implemented in full force.

I remember 2006-2007, when Russia was very eager to buy Ventspils Nafta. At that time, Viktor Kaluzhny, who was called an "oil diplomat", was even appointed ambassador and worked on the issue. You were the one who resisted such a deal. Is that the reason?

Russia's interest in buying Ventspils Nafta on certain terms arose already when the political party Saimnieks was in power.

When /representative of the party Saimnieks, Privatization Minister/ Ēriks Kaža went to Moscow?

Yes, and then this topic came up in 2004-2006. I was not a direct decision-maker, but there were people who consulted with me on what to do. We had no illusions about those Russian interest representatives and how they would proceed. The buyer was not the Kremlin, the President of Russia or the Russian government. The ones involved were /Ventspils transit business millionaires/ Oļegs Stepanovs and the "jackals" with active oligarch connections in Russia.

You mentioned your former business partners. Understandably, they, too, from 2004 onwards, were the "engine" that drove this criminal case forward. Most likely, it was they who encouraged Rudolfs Meroni to give accusing testimony to prosecutors?

The Meroni plan was born in 2003. That is safe to say, and there is evidence. In order to implement his plan, he had to play a conflict card, but he could not play it without the participation of the prosecutor /Andis/ Mežsargs. In June 2006, they reached an agreement with prosecutor Mežsargs. Already in July, the Aivars' Park case was indicted and searches were done.

It happened on the same day when the ZZS board nominated me as the ZZS prime ministerial candidate in the Saeima elections held in the first week of October 2006.

It must be remembered that the day before you were charged in the so-called Aivars' Park case, Oļegs Stepanovs and Olafs Berķis invited prosecutor Andis Mežsargs to the restaurant Rīdzene to drink some mineral water. If a prosecutor goes to a restaurant with witnesses in criminal proceedings the day before the indictment, this is by no means a secondary fact.

Yes. There are testimonies given by Rudolfs Meroni in England, and there are publications with the headings "The end of Lembergs in England", "He'll be "dressed down" in the Latvijas kuģniecība case". But in England, Rudolfs Meroni, while giving testimony, called the prosecutor the Mežsargs a sod. Meroni considered him an unprofessional, greedy and ambitious man. Meroni also played up these qualities of the prosecutor's Mežsargs very successfully. Meroni was a conductor. Meroni yanked the leash of Mežsargs along with many other prosecutors, including the Attorney General, who was the head of the investigation team in my case, and led the process as he needed to. Meroni "cooperated" with Mežsargs, strengthened his appetite and also cooperated with the "jackals". It is impossible not to mention Ainārs Gulbis here due to the huge debts of Gulbis and his companies to both Ventspils Nafta and Ventspils City Council in the early 1990s - more than ten million US dollars. Gulbis asked me to write off the debts. No one was ready to give 10 million to Gulbis and his companies. In 1997, a settlement was reached - Gulbis' debts were settled by other legal entities. Among other things, a debt was paid to Ventspils City Council, covering debts of 6 million US dollars. Ainārs Gulbis could not calm down, he sought support from the then Prime Minister Andris Šķēle, politicians Arnolds Laksa and Ainārs Šlesers. The catalyst for Gulbis turned out to be a bill of exchange, which I had inherited from /a friend, the prematurely deceased/ Vitāls Lejiņš. SWH Rīga, headed by Ainārs Gulbis, owed Vitāls Lejiņš more than 100,000 lats. I recovered that money. It is declared in my income in 2005. Here they had common interests - "jackals", Ainārs Gulbis, Jūlijs Krūmiņš, who could not sell his assets for the money he wanted, prosecutor Mežsargs, Meroni. And above all - a long-term political interest in removing Lembergs as a potential prime minister. This is how this process continues to this very day. New characters are also appearing, such as Juris Juriss, for whom what is happening is an element of career realization - he is "against" Lembergs and therefore is one of the "good ones" for the politicians.

But over these 12 years there have been beautiful moments. You fell in love, got married, had your second son, Artūrs, who also had to attend a court hearing once and was almost deported to an orphanage.

Yes! This happened at the suggestion of Juris Juriss, the prosecutor of the Division for Investigation of Especially Serious Cases of the Prosecutor General's Office, to deprive me of my son and give him to a social worker, i.e. orphanage, without a decision of the Orphan's and Custody Court. It shows a pathological hatred of me, which is completely contrary to the letter and spirit of the Office of the Prosecutor Law. It does not say that it is the prosecutor's duty to take revenge. But, of course, there is an interesting phrase in this law that

a prosecutor must act "according to his or her convictions", but it is not said what kind of conviction it is - is it a political, ideological, religious, revolutionary conviction?

The law does not say that he must have the conviction to take revenge even on my four-year-old son. If it were 1918 and Russia, he would have shot or repressed Lembergs' family without even blinking.

And would enjoy it too?

And even get the Order of the Red Banner for the elimination of class enemies.

Can you tell us how much money you have spent on defense?

I haven't counted. Enough money. However, during this time I have mastered the regulations of Criminal Procedure and international human rights regulations. I don't know all the verses by heart, but I have learned the meaning of the law. I have found that human rights do not exist in Latvia. Prosecutors look at them with a smile: "You can complain, well then, go on and complain, I will violate these human rights all the same, but you can always complain." Prosecutors have an absolute sense of impunity. As long as there is no oversight of the work of prosecutors, the main tool for obtaining a conviction will be pressure from prosecutors on the courts. Now /Jānis/ Bordāns and the head of the Legal Affairs Committee of the Saeima /Juris/ Jurašs - both members of the Judicial Council - say quite clearly that the courts should decide criminal cases only in the way these two like. Is there any question then, what judgment do Bordāns and Jurašs want in my case at the court of the first instance and appellate court? Does anyone in Latvia have any doubts about what they want? No one has any doubts. By threatening a judge of the Limbaži court, they have also expressed a threat to the judges hearing my case. They have shown what the reaction will be in the case of an acquittal. A judge may lose his post. Why should a judge have a conflict with the Minister of Justice, with the members of the Judicial Council? On the other hand, can Jurašs /who is being tried himself for disclosing a state secret/ be announced guilty? No! Why? Because Bordāns doesn't want that. Bordāns and Jurašs have said their part. Prime Minister Kariņš has agreed to this, and the President, by staying silent, has also agreed that it is really necessary to decide in the way that is considered correct by the Minister of Justice Bordāns! This, of course, characterizes Latvia as a supremely lawful power.

What will you tell your supporters after the verdict has been read?

The verdict must be heard first. The accusation is completely vague, incomprehensible and in many places contradictory.