Oligarchs give evidence about their conversations

The parliamentary commission charged with investigating the so-called "oligarch conversations" had one of its biggest days December 18 with the appearance of former Prime Minister Andris Šķēle and the high profile perpetual mayor of Ventspils, Aivars Lembergs.

However the three and a half hour session included few memorable exchanges, though temperatures occasionally became frayed when Lembergs put in his appearance.

First to give evidence was Šķēle. Speaking quietly and confidently, he said he was proud of his achievements in the business world since leaving politics, particularly in helping secure the construction of a fertilizer terminal in the port of Riga. However, everything was above board, he insisted:

"I filled in all the necessary declarations, personal and professional."

This was a theme throughout the session: that the people being question freely admitted they had consulted one another on rare occasions, but that this was normal practice and had no undertones of conspiracy.

Two-time premier Šķēle also said he "categorically denied" rigging a vote to secure a second term in office for President Guntis Ulmanis, saying he had spoken with a large number of Saeima deputies on the matter based purely on the merits of the candidates. 

 "In my opinion, that was the correct thing to do," he said. He also denied any direct role in the hiring and firing of journalists at the Diena daily and denied he had considered buying the airBaltic airline. 

"I don't have that kind of money," he quipped.

The only moment he threatened to lose his cool was when discussing former President Valdis Zatlers, saying that while in office he had acted "against the constitution" and that the whole process of the oligarch conversations commission was "politically motivated".

Next before the commission were two businessmen, Viesturs Koziols and Aleksandrs Tralmaks, with Koziols disparaging the transcripts published by the Ir news weekly as "edited, altered and incomplete".

Topping the bill in a session that at times resembled a circus with maverick Saeima member Artuss Kaiminšs attempting unsuccessfully to join in with the proceedings was Lembergs who began and ended his evidence with a lengthy slide presentation on the ways in which he feels he has been persecuted.

At various times he alleged that Ir is financed by the Russian mafia, that President Zatlers had offered the government to a coalition of the Saskana and Vienotiba parties and that before it came under the sway of the oligarchs, Diena had run a "Total lie campaign against me to ruin me as a politician."

He also repeatedly called for the use of a "fonoscope" to ascertain the authenticity of the transcripts.

"If you want to ask me about the conversations, show me the original recordings or expert evidence that they are authentic and I will account for every word," Lembergs said.

 

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