Rail bribery case is a big one, says anti-graft cop

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More than ten searches have been conducted and several people have been interrogated in the case involving Ugis Magonis, the former head of the state-owned Latvian railway company, who was detained on suspicions of large-scale corruption on August 7, said Corruption Prevention and Combating Bureau (KNAB) head Jaroslavs Strelcenoks in an interview with the Latvian public television on Wednesday.

"We have conducted more than ten searches, interrogated several people, and the process still goes on," he said, adding that it is too early to speak about further developments.

Commenting on the tactics of Magonis' lawyers, claiming that Magonis had performed a private transaction when found allegedly with nearly half a million euros in cash in his car, and so could not be viewed as a state official at the time of his detention, Strelcenoks explained that in that case the prosecutor's office and the court would not have decided to keep Magonis in custody.

LTV's De Facto investigative news program reported on August 23 that lawyers defending Magonis at court are trying to convince the court that Magonis at the time of detention should not be viewed as a state official, despite his high-profile job as boss of the entire railway network.

"It was a transaction between two individuals. Meanwhile, KNAB believes that there were signs of giving and accepting a bribe. Time and court will show who is right," said Magonis' lawyer Saulvedis Varpins.

The Latvian Corruption Prevention and Combating Bureau (KNAB) has launched a criminal investigation against Ugis Magonis for accepting a large bribe, and the man was promptly removed from his post as CEO of Latvijas Dzelzcels.

Magonis is suspected of accepting a bribe worth nearly €500,000 in connection with a tender for four diesel locomotives organized by the railway company's subsidiary, LDZ Ritosa Sastava Serviss, which was won by Estonian businessman Oleg Ossinovski's company Skinest. Magonis was detained close to the Latvian-Estonian border with the money in his car.  

Magonis has been serving as the CEO of Latvijas Dzelcels (Latvian Railways) since 2005 and was the chairman of the company’s supervisory board from 2003 to 2005, making him one of the country's highest-profile executives, managing in the process to combine the go-getting air of a free-market entrepreneur with the fact he presided over a heavyweight monopoly largely inherited from the Soviet era.

Latvijas Dzelzcels is a state-owned company, involved in freight transportation by rail and the maintenance of infrastructure.

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