PM urges restraint on 'oligarch transcripts'

The anti-graft authority should review the so-called 'oligarch case' and interrogate the people involved, Prime Minister Māris Kučinskis (Greens and Farmers Union) told the weekly in an interview published July 20. He however urged caution in judging the participants' and advocated a legal solution. 

As previously reported by LSM, the 'oligarch transcripts' concern covertly recorded attempts by oligarchs Aivars Lembergs, Ainārs Šlesers, Andris Šķēle and their associates to seize ownership of businesses, decide political appointees, manipulate media sources and divide power among themselves.

In the interview, Kučinskis distanced himself from the talks, revealing however that he had visited the Rīdzene hotel where investigators recorded the conversations, the transcripts of which have dominated public discourse since Ir magazine started to release weekly batches of said conversations in June.

"Yes, I tell you, I distance myself from such discussions .. But without a doubt it's necessary that KNAB [the anti-graft authority] should review the whole spectrum. I support a legal solution," he told the magazine. 

Kučinskis revealed that he had met Ainārs Šlesers, one of the oligarchs, when the now-defunct People's Party decided to join the For a Good Latvia list of parties. 

"If we look back at it, I was never really trusted [in those circles]. I understood Šlesers' style and knew that there's a lot of boasting and also a great wish to arrange everything and put life in order. Business in politics, that's evidently what happened there," he said.

The PM was evasive about resignation calls against Agriculture Minister Jānis Dūklavs, a subject in the conversations and, like Kučinskis, also of the Greens and Farmers Union. 

"Of course Dūklavs had an hour-and-a-half long conversation there, and just two fragments were published. But now he has to provide answers too," said Kučinskis.

In a batch of conversations, serving Agriculture Minister Dūklavs was included, apparently enjoying the oligarchs' plans to get rid of a troublesome prosecutor general - a potential breach of the line between politics and rule of law.

Yet Dūklavs continues in his job, apparently with the continued backing of the Prime Minister.

The Unity party previously called for putting forth a new candidate to replace Dūklavs but the Greens and Farmers Union faction leader Augusts Brigmanis said the party will not consider it.

The 'oligarch transcripts' published by the Ir weekly are based on conversations recorded by KNAB at the Rīdzene hotel as part of the so-called 'oligarch case' (recently closed citing lack of evidence).

The case was started in 2011 after the Saeima voted against allowing law enforcement officers to carry out a search at the residence of former MP and Transport Minister Ainārs Šlesers, one of those recorded on tape.

Following this, Valdis Zatlers, then president, made the shock decision of dissolving the Latvian parliament after hearing the original recordings and reacting with shock and disgust as a cadre of wealthy businessmen discussed how they planned to divide both political power and national economic assets among themselves.

The case revolved around suspicions that oligarchs Ainārs Šlesers, Andris Šķēle and Aivars Lembergs were the true owners of the Riga Commercial Port and that deals had been struck between Lembergs and Šlesers to bribe an official at the Riga Freeport.

Such rumors had long been rife, but the recordings provide substantial corroboration.

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