Aivars Lembergs: A politician must be prepared to sacrifice

Lively, full of optimism and hope for just criminal proceedings and determined to fight for respect for Human Rights in Latvia at International Courts, Aivars Lembergs gave this interview to Neatkarīgā in person at the Riga Central Prison.
17.08.2021. Ritums Rozenbergs
©Dmitrijs SUĻŽICS, F64 Photo Agency

Since 22 February our readers and ourselves know little of what has been happening to you and how have you been. Outside this prison we read the full text of the sentence by the first-tier court in the criminal case named after you, which, among others, contains a two-page decision about the security measure applied to you - incarceration. It does not contain a single specific fact as to why the strictest of all security measures has been applied. Do you know the reasons?

It will soon be half of a year that I am in prison. It has already been officially established, that the State of Latvia has breached International Human Rights as well as Staversme of Latvia in relation to the imprisoned politician Aivars Lembergs. Ombudsman has established, that Riga District Court made the ruling to arrest me at the courtroom on 22 February without any justification, and that I have been unlawfully stripped of my rights to freedom as guaranteed by Article 94 of Satversme. This breach of my Human Rights cannot be undone. It happened and it has real consequences. The consequences - I have been incarcerated for six months already and for four of those months I was incarcerated without any reasons given.

What responsibility does the state bear for this breach of Satversme?

Upon my request the Constitutional Court has started 2 cases since my incarceration started. One in relation to the fact that it appears Satversme has not been complied with by barring me from voting in the municipal election. If I were in prison in England, Germany, Malta or Cyprus I could take part in election and vote by mail. But as I am in Riga, I cannot vote. That is the sort of democracy we have. My Human Rights have been breached by this.

The next complaint relates to the fact, that my application for permission to use computer in prison in order to work as a member of City Council was rejected. A prisoner is allowed to study remotely, but why can’t they use computer for work? Constitutional Court took my complaint in for consideration, as they believed that the law regulating incarceration does not comply with Satversme, as it bars using computer, among others, to work remotely.

Another complaint has been lodged. I complained to the Constitutional Court that the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms and Satversme of Latvia have both been breached. Not only have I been deprived of my freedom thus breaching Article 94 of Satversme but I am also unable to appeal against my incarceration. European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms and the case law set by the European Court of Human Rights clearly stipulate that there must the right to appeal the security measure at any time and that the Courts must regularly reassess whether continued incarceration is well founded. This has not happened in my case. The Constitutional Court must assess whether or not the Law on Criminal Procedures is in compliance with the Satversme. It concluded that the Court is applying the Law on Criminal Procedures and International Human Rights in their narrowest meaning, not the broadest, as they should do if Latvia wants to be compliant with the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms and the case law of the European Court of Human Rights.

Constitutional Court has established three counts of breaches of my rights as guaranteed in Satversme, the Ombudsman - one count. This is a lot for a single incarcerated politician. This really is.

What is the point of these legal proceedings, what do you stand to gain from those conclusions, if despite them all they won’t let you out of prison?

My sacrifice is for the benefit of Latvia, for its democratization. I believe that in a year or so prisoners will be able to use computers, provided certain conditions are observed. An incarcerated person will be able to vote in next municipal elections. A time will come when the courts will no longer be able to make unsubstantiated rulings of incarceration.

But what about gains for you personally?

At this point in time, I do not have an opportunity to even appeal the incarceration. In our appeal we included the complaint about the court ruling on incarceration as completely unfounded. The team of judges who will look through the appeal has not been appointed yet, as such there currently is no one to look at the complaint. There is one reservation though. At the moment we can lodge a request to change the security measure to a milder, less restrictive one if we have documentary evidence that this is health- or family-related. But while I am in prison, I am unable to get the documentation relating to my health problems. To date I have not succeeded in that. Every year for 14 years already I have been prescribed a treatment plan that I need to follow, and I am unable to follow that in prison. The prison does not have the most basic medical equipment and services of a medical physiotherapist are unavailable. After my arrest in 2007 the State Commission of Health and Capability Examiner Doctors ruled that I had a second-degree disability. Later it was changed to third-degree disability. To have it confirmed I had to apply to the Commission which I did not do as the third-degree disability does not offer any benefits. That would not have changed my health condition. Had I known that I will be incarcerated, I would have gone through the Commission. Currently I physically cannot get to the Commission. In order to collect all the required documents for it, one needs to go through massive bureaucracy. When the team of judges is appointed, we will lodge a new and updated plea for my release.

But we did not get to the bottom of it - are you aware of the reasoning behind your incarceration?

This year the European Court of Human Rights made a ruling in the case of Višnevskis et al. vs Latvia. It contains a description of what a specific, facts-based reasoning for incarceration looks like - where there has been a violent crime, where there has been evasion from the punishment, breach of security measure, missed visits to parole board etc. Ruling about my incarceration only contains abstract statements of general nature. The ruling by the ECHR states that abstract deliberations, assumptions, possibilities - all are not a justification for incarceration. Since the decision on the incarceration is a part of the Court verdict, then each allegation should be referenced to evidence or a proven fact, where it can be found in the full verdict. In my case there isn’t a single reference to a single piece of evidence.

It does contain oddities though. For instance, it refers to the prosecutor [Andis] Mežsargs, who retired in 2008 and who played no role in forwarding my criminal case to the court and the trial, let alone the time period after 22 February. It reads “the accused will evade complying with the sentence”. How can one evade complying with the sentence in relation to the pensioner Mežsargs? Where is the causation? It reads further that I apparently have some sort of influence over officials at KNAB, the Security Police, State Revenue Service, State Police and elsewhere, and that these officials will preclude carrying out the sentence, if there is a conviction. Here is a question - where am I currently? In prison! Why? Because I am in effect serving my sentence. So, in order that I do not avoid serving a 5 years sentence, I am serving it already whilst still being innocent! I will have spent a year and a half in prison soon within this criminal case. So where are those officials, how come they allow me to be in prison again? Also, peculiar. The judgement says, “Security Police”. But does the Security Police exist? Already since 1 January 2019 Security Police does not exist but State Security Service does. Is it worthy of a Court to reference in the ruling my influence over the Security Police - an institution which ceased existing more than two and a half years ago? I plan to write to the heads of the institutions mentioned in the ruling to warn them, that according to the Court, there are people in their institutions planning to commit a crime.

The ruling does not contain specific facts though. Why not? Because they do not exist. So here I am sitting and waiting that some day somebody from KNAB or the non-existent Security Police of the SRS of the State Police will come along and collectively or individually get me out of prison. Is it within powers of the above-mentioned institutions to free me from the prison? Is the Riga Central Prison subordinated to KNAB, State Security Service, SRS, National Police? No! The prison answers to Bordāns!

What are the principal violations of Human Rights that took place during the trial?

To keep me from excercising my rights to defence, the political elite of the State of Latvia through the Saeima, in return of a generous renumeration, changed the Law on Criminal Proceeding more than 10 times - starting from restricting the examination of evidence and ending with an unmotivated ban for the defence lawyers to read the prepared defence speech by significantly restricting the allocated time. As the result the prosecution had an unlimited time during the debates, but the time allocated for the defence was significantly shortened. The Court did not allow me to use services of the lawyer of my choice whom I had hired - Aivo Leimanis, and they forced me to use a state-appointed lawyer Genādijs Ivankins, who was busy at other trials. During the debates the prosecution spoke for a year. I was given 4 days for my final statement. 100 people were questioned during the trial as prosecution witnesses. Of the 100 defence witnesses the judge allowed 3 to be questioned. During the trial the indictment was changed 3 times. No time afforded to familiarise ourselves with the new indictments. The indictment was also changed after the witnesses had already been questioned. The evidence in support of the new indictment was not examined. The government caused deliberate delays in the trial. Court hearings had to be rescheduled at prosecutors’ fault. 75 volumes of evidence by the prosecutors included in the case material were not used in the trial. There is a massive number of Human Rights violations.

What is your overall opinion about the full text of the ruling?

The ruling has been copied word by word, comma by comma, containing the same grammar and textual mistakes, from the indictment, the motivation is 100% that was used by the prosecutors during the debates. Almost all arguments put forth by the defence have not been mentioned and analysed. For example, concerning the extortion of the bribe from Ainārs Gulbis in 1994 - 1995. Already in 1999 I asked the Prosecutor General to verify a version where the shares were not obtained from Ainārs Gulbis but bought from companies, who paid their debts to Ventspils City Council. This true version of the events was not investigated by the Prosecutors Office, the prosecutors objected to its investigation during the trial. The Court removed questions that were planned to be put to the witnesses from the trial and forbade me from give testimony in this respect arguing that it was a delaying tactics. The ruling in the part of accusation based on Article 219 of the Criminal Law about the failure to declare foreign company ownership is in direct contradiction with the ruling of the Senate of the Supreme Court in an analogous accusation in the case of “Latvenergo”. In my case the court states in its judgement that the laundering of a criminally obtained property started on 10 February 1995, although the special law criminalising such behaviour did not come into effect until 1998. So, the law has a retrospective application against Lembergs. That, of course, is illegal.

At the same time, one must bear in mind that the Minister of Justice Jānis Bordāns in his interview to BNN has breached Aivars Lemberg’s right to the presumption of innocence, when before the Court ruling was written and took effect, he unequivocally stated that Lembergs is guilty of the crimes incriminated to him. He said: “.. currently Riga District Court has … in my opinion very justifiably applied the strictest security measure - incarceration”. The Minister repeatedly stressed that it was a “very balanced and justified decision” to put Lembergs in prison at that moment. Before the full judgement was even available and took effect the Minister of Justice already reported that it was well founded. How does he know if the judgement is not available? The Court is still writing it up. So, who wrote up the “correct” judgement? The person, who, not being part of the court himself, already new that it was going to be a “very balanced” judgement. This means the trial was just a façade. The Court carried out Minister of Justice order - to lock Lembergs up. In his turn a member of Latvian Government from the New Conservative party Gatis Eglītis stated on Latvian Television on 6 June: the fact “that Aivars Lembergs is in prison is to a large extent thanks to us”. So, members of the Government determine the sentence! These facts are incompatible with the concept of Latvian courts as objective, just and independent judiciary of Latvia as a democratic country. Formally but not in fact. The way the whole trial went clearly demonstrated that arguments by the defence will not be taken into consideration, will not be analysed, and will be ignored. And this is exactly what happened. Anybody possessing any logic will find so many inevitable contradictions and inversions when reading the descriptive part of the ruling that they will be thrown into the state of shock by the sheer insanity of it! Lawyers - please read the descriptive part of the ruling, i.e. the shortened sentence.

How do you see what the government is doing to you by keeping you in prison - is this a mockery of the political opponents by the regime in power?

No. It all makes perfect sense. From legal standpoint, of course, the decision to arrest me is illegal. Ombudsman’s conclusion attests to it. The Ombudsman after examining my complaint concluded that Riga District Court violated Article 94 of the Satversme - my right to freedom. But from political standpoint the Court’s decision is in line with the aforementioned public statements by Jānis Bordāns and Gatis Eglītis, that it is precisely thanks to the New Conservative party and Kariņš’ Government that Lembergs is in prison. That their request to lock me up is well founded was demonstrated by election results in Ventspils. Just imagine - a politician has been handed a sentence by the first-tier court. The politician has been put in prison based on what happened more than 30 years ago, namely, that I allegedly extorted shares of capital worth 5 Lats. Despite this we are the absolute winners of this year’s 5 June elections. I won the most votes of all 88 candidates. More voters gave their vote to Aivars Lembergs than to anybody else. Thus, it is crystal clear that this kind of competitor must be locked up. Moreover, upon the request by the Latvian Government the US Government have applied sanctions to Aivars Lembergs. No other politician, despite having a guilty verdict against him, being subject to the US sanctions, being in prison can win an election, can his party get the absolute majority of votes! You will not find such a politician in the whole of Europe with its half a billion of population. Now tell me - can you let this kind of a politician walk free? No! Thus, from the political point of view the incarceration is completely justified. It is also justified from the financial perspective. No doubt Meroni’s scholarship holders Bordāns, Jurašs, also Bordāns scholarship holder - the New Conservative party and other officials at various state institutions, who won’t bite the hand that feeds them, are all part of the game. Therefore, there is logic to what is happening. Where there is a demand, there is a supply. Nothing to wonder about. What is unfair is that this cannot be demanded by just anyone, only those in power.

But isn’t there a risk - once they embark on the road of putting opponents in prison, especially in the light of the establishing of the Economic Court, that any politician crossing New Conservative party’s path can swiftly find himself in prison?

But you saw it with your own eyes how Bordāns cursed at the Judge from Limbaži when he acquitted Uģis Magone. There was no consequence for Bordāns but the judges understood everything. Regional and district judges are in a “suspended” position. Minister of Justice can start disciplinary proceedings against them. These are unpleasant proceeding as you never know how they will end. The “digital television” case, which was also started at a political request, just fell through. The Head Judge in my case, Irina Jansone was promoted and now she manages the Riga District court judges who will be considering my appeal complaint. I will not be surprised at any decisions and rulings in relation to me.

Does that mean that the only hope there is for just criminal proceedings and change of the security measure is when your case reaches the Supreme Court?

It looks that way. By the way, my complaint has been accepted for consideration by a United Nations Human Rights Committee. For 14 years I had a security measure that banned me from carrying out the duties of the Chairman of Ventspils City Council. Human Rights Committee of the UN considers 14 years to be disproportionate and unjustified. I am aware that international courts are slow. But I am a politician, and a politician must be prepared to sacrifice.