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Sāk lietu par ostas maksājumiem Lemberga vadītai biedrībai

Corruption watchdog investigating Ventspils port and Lembergs: LTV's De Facto

Take note – story published 2 years ago

The Corruption Prevention and Combating Bureau (KNAB) has initiated criminal proceedings involving Ventspils Free Port and former Ventspils Mayor Aivars Lembergs, Latvian Television's broadcast De Facto reported on May 22.

The port's current management says it could have suffered €1.3 million in losses over a very long period.

The broadcast has reported many times that for decades money from private companies, state and local government institutions flowed to various associations led by Lembergs, which provided him with a much higher income than the salary of the Chairman of the City Council under law. These practices took place until the United States put Lembergs on its sanctions list in late 2019.

An investigation has now been initiated by the Corruption Prevention and Combating Bureau (KNAB) on Ventspils Free Port transfers to one of the associations – the Ventspils Development Agency. This was revealed a couple of weeks ago by an opposition Member, the port board member Ģirts Valdis Kristovskis (Unity), who was authorized by the port to prepare evidence for law enforcement authorities.

"The amount of it is impressive. After carrying out the audit, the Free Port Authority has identified losses of around €1 million 300 thousand," Kristovskis told LTV.

The Ventspils Development Agency was founded in 1998 by local government and port companies such as “Ventspils nafta”, “Ventbunkers”, “Kālija parks”, “Ventamonjaks”. The association was entrusted with city marketing. Later, Ventspils Free Port, High School and Engineering School, as well as local government authorities became members which paid hundreds of thousands of euros a year in membership.

“The biggest share was paid by the Free Port Authority. For the last five years, around EUR 113 thousand per year,” Kristovskis said.

The audit noted that in 2001 the Ventspils Development Agency, led by Lembergs, invited the port, also led by Lembergs, to become a member of the agency. The port manager Imants Sarmulis said then that one-off members' money will have to be paid: 35 thousand lats or 50 thousand euros. This amount covers a variety of services for an unlimited period. But Freeport continued to pay membership money annually, and it grew four times. The payment was usually hidden in one of the budget aisles.

KNAB is now investigating a potential large-scale waste and abuse of the position of service.

Former Port Manager Sarmulis said he doesn't remember why he reported in 2001 that the payment would be one-off. He claims that it is the agency that has helped develop the port's industrial zone, so payments to the association have been justified. “Lembergs directly managed the whole job. He personally controlled it. I went to talk to him several times a week,” Sarmulis said.

Lembergs, already the subject of a separate, astonishingly protracted corruption trial, allegedly received close to €100 thousand in salary from Ventspils Development Agency.

Lembergs confirmed to De Facto that KNAB had sent questions to the association. He links criminal proceedings to the nearing of the elections and is convinced that nothing illegal has happened.

“Every year, the meeting of the association identified the indicative figure that it would be desirable to pay [members' money] in terms of the size of the work. On the other hand, how [the port] entered into the association and the membership money is not decided on by the association, but by the port,” the former mayor said, adding "I was a member of the Board, but together there were eight board members. If the budget provided for it, the budget provided for it."

The KNAB did not provide any information about the criminal proceedings to Latvian Television.

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