Lembergs' arrested property case at a standstill

More than two months have passed since the Latvian State issued a court order to take over the possession of the arrested property in the criminal case of Ventspils Mayor Aivars Lembergs. But the lawyer from Switzerland, Rudolf Meroni, who has been in charge of it for years, is in no hurry to give it away, Latvian Television investigative broadcast De Facto reported November 1.

In 2007, when Lembergs was detained in a corruption case, the prosecutor's office arrested his property. It includes more than 30 foreign companies in which Lembergs is the owner or true beneficiary. Many of these companies are owned by companies working in Ventspils port, which turn around tens of millions of euros annually.

Rudolf Meroni was appointed as the custodian of the property during the proceedings. 

The State Police is now investigating the squandering and embezzlement of the arrested property by Meroni, as millions of euros are allegedly untraceable. 

Due to the investigation launched at the end of the summer, Rīga Regional Court, which reviews Lembergs' case, decided to remove Meroni from storage.

The court entrusted the transfer of the arrested property from Meroni to the authority of the Ministry of Interior - the State Agency for Security. The authority said that this was a unique situation. The agency specializes in storing and destroying seized items, such as illegal alcohol and cigarettes.

Two days after the court's decision, the agency sent Meroni a letter asking him to inform immediately how the property had been stored until now, and about the time and order in which the property would be returned.

Meroni has allegedly come up with an answer letter that cannot be called very forthcoming. State Agency for Security and the Ministry of Interior refused to provide information on Meroni's position and progress in taking over the property.

Meroni himself told De Facto that the court and the agency had contacted him, not in line with the international legal aid arrangements, but he had responded and “kindly asked” to explain a number of problems.

“The majority of the rights of the true beneficiary were arrested, which is nothing tangible. I can't give anything away because nothing was given to me.

I was asked to be the custodian of the property, I did. The arrested assets didn't budge. The arrested shares are legally owned by different foreign companies, not by me, and remain actively with these companies,” said Meroni.

Meroni said that certain shareholders were redeemed, but denies that he had done so and that the law had been violated. He says he currently represents a majority of shareholders.

“I don't really see a reason to remove me from storage. (..) But actually I'm relieved.

It was a burden and made it difficult to make strategic decisions about port terminal development. Although Lembergs only owns a minority of companies, I thought I should always ask the court to make important decisions. Shareholders I represent as a majority can now make decisions. It's better,”  Meroni wrote.

What the police should find out is whether Meroni himself or the shareholders he says represent have obtained a majority in many Ventspils port companies, and whether this has not happened by squandering the money that would potentially come to the state if Lembergs were found guilty. The police do not provide any information in the interests of the active investigation.

Aivars Lembergs, long-time Ventspils city mayor, wealthy businessman and an influential figure, has been on trial on corruption charges for 11 years. The case has yet to reach a verdict. The Prosecutor's Office has demanded an eight-year prison sentence, with confiscation of property, and a fine in the amount of 150 minimum monthly wages, or EUR 64,500, for Lembergs who stands accused of a number of serious crimes including bribery and abuse of office.

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