New Saeima speaker thought U.S. sanctions on Lembergs were 'strange'

Daiga Mieriņa (Greens and Farmers Union/ZZS) was elected as the Saeima speaker on September 20, 2023, as reported by LSM yesterday.

A year earlier, she was defending the record of former Ventspils mayor Aivars Lembergs, despite the fact that he had been handed a five year jail term for graft and was under U.S. sanctions imposed In December 2019 by the US OFAC, who declared: "Lembergs has used his influence over leadership of political parties to shape government personnel and place certain government officials in positions, as well as to obstruct other government officials from obtaining leadership positions."

In an interview with LSM's Russian-language service show "TČK" ("ТЧK") on September 14, 2022 Mieriņa was among a group of ZZS politicians who staunchly defended Lembergs' record and even defended the idea of Lembergs being a suitable candidate to become Prime Minister, notwithstanding the fact that he was serving time behind bars.

In February 2021, the court of first instance sentenced Aivars Lembergs to five years of imprisonment, confiscation of property and a fine of 20,000 euros. When the parliamentary elections were held in autumn 2022, Lembergs was released on bail as he worked on appeals against his conviction.

His trial had taken more than a decade to complete. While being sanctioned by a major ally and being convicted of corruption by a court might be expected to end many a political career, it was no barrier to Lembergs and ZZS announced that it was ready to nominate him as its prime ministerial candidate.

Daiga Mieriņa, who at that time was a ZZS candidate in the upcoming October 1 parliamentary elections, was full of praise for Lembergs.

"People want to be taken care of! And what Aivars Lembergs does is pure care – Ventspils' streets are tidy, houses are built, everything is done so that people feel good and can live normally. And people want the same in the country – to have someone, to feel that someone cares about them," said Mieriņa.

To's question, about how Lembergs could possibly be considered a viable prime minister if U.S. sanctions were in place on him, Mieriņa answered:   

"Understand, if there is a new government, new ministers, they can also go to America, and ask its government to cancel the sanctions. If it's that simple, anyone can go to America and say – let's impose sanctions on such and such a person or cancel sanctions on such and such. It's strange that this was done in relation to Aivars Lembergs, and the strangest thing is that [it was done] without evidence!" Mieriņa said.

Candidates from ZZS accused Lemberg's opponents of "hostility" and "slandering a competitor". They confirmed that they considered it possible for ZZS to participate in a coalition with such a candidate for the post of prime minister.

A year later, with ZZS having just entered government as part of a new three-party coalition with New Unity and the Progressives, they appear to have been proven right – even if they now claim a man who was their pick for prime minister less than a year ago now wields no influence at all.

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