Lembergs defends himself after being placed on U.S. sanctions list

Colorful Latvian buinessman-cum-politician Aivars Lembergs responded to being placed on the United States sanctions list December 10.

Speaking to reporters at a press conference in Ventspils from behind a large advent wreath and sporting a blue checked sports jacket, Lembergs implied he was the victim of attempts by his "political rivals" to ruin him and wider a "political reckoning" by government parties against the opposition parties.

He named Prime Minister Krišjānis Kariņš, Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkēvičs and Justice Minister Jānis Bordāns among these chief opponents, but the greater part of his ire was reserved for the manner in which the United States Treasury had imposed the sanctions upon him.

"I have had no opportunity to see the accusations against me," he complained, saying "I feel exactly like I am in the times of Stalin's repressions," a trope he repeated several times.

"In a democratic country a person has the right to see the documents relating to decisions taken against him," Lembergs said, complaining that there had been no contact with him from the American side to lay out their accusations of corruption.

Lembergs denied he controlled or owned the legal entities sanctioned alongside him by the U.S. Department of the Treasury, saying they were independent and operated on a one member, one vote basis.

Referring to himself occasionally in the third person, he said "take it away from Lembergs" was the motivating factor behind the inclusion of the legal entities on the sanctions list and that he was waiting to receive some sort of official notification from the U.S. authorities before deciding what to do, even though he was informed by an LTV reporter that the sanctions were already in force.

Asked if the freeze of his bank accounts would impact his day to day life, he retorted "Is buying sausages sanctioned, too?"

The latter part of the press conference saw him turn his fire on reporters, accusing them of "spreading fake news".

As previously reported by LSM, Lembergs was named on a U.S. Treasury sanctions list December 9.

In an unusual move, Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkēvičs took to twitter soon after the Lembergs press conference to deny he had played any part in the U.S. decision saying "I have not influenced or participated in the US decision on sanctions against citizen Lembergs."

In response, Lembergs said he would not expect an admission of guilt from the minister and suggested he gave orders to banks, a statement he rounded off with no fewer than three exclamation marks.

Later, the LETA news agency reported that Lembergs had resigned from the board of the Freeport of Ventspils Authority "'while all the circumstances are clarified."

Meanwhile Transport Minister Tālis Linkaits told a press conference the government was preparing proposals that would see control of the ports of Ventspils and Rīga move into state hands, with a promise to introduce these proposals on December 11 and then send them to Saeima for approval "as quickly as possible". He also suggested that as the Latvian Transit Business Association was one of the sanctioned bodies, it made sense for Latvian Railways and Rīga International Airport to leave the association in a speedy manner.

Linkaits also said that to the best of his knowledge Ventspils port could no longer use its bank account as a result of the imposition of sanctions and that talks were ongoing on related issues such as the payment of employee wages.

Standing next to Linkaits was Prime Minister Krišjānis Kariņš who said news of the sanctions had been "unexpected" and "I am sure that all the relevant decisions were taken in line with the national laws of the United States, independent of [input from] outside."


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