Rīga deputy mayor quits as transport company scandal grows

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The major scandal unfolding at Rigas satiksme (Rīga transport) the Latvian capital's municipal transport company continued to grow December 17 with the city's powerful deputy mayor calling a hasty press conference following a disastrous television appearance December 16.

Andris Ameriks, the long-term number 2 on Rīga city council, appeared on LTV's De Facto investigative show, which was probing the scandal at the transport company, which has seen offices raided by anti-corruption officers and senior officials and high-profile businessmen including Maris Martinsons arrested.

In a memorable exchange, De Facto reporter Ivo Leitans cornered Ameriks and asked him if he had ever met Martinsons in Minsk, Belarus. Ameriks replied that he did not remember, at which point the reporter showed him footage of the two men in the same bar at the same time.

Ameriks was also evasive when asked whether KNAB anti-corruption officers had searched him home.

On December 17 Ameriks issued a statement saying: "I've known businessman Maris Martinsons for several years, much like many others in Riga and Latvia. I believe that my acquaintance with Maris Martinson is the cause of all suspicion of my involvement in the offense."

"I can confirm once again that I have not in any way been involved in the procurement processes of Riga transport and its illegal activities, which are investigated by KNAB. I have not and never had any status in this criminal proceeding," he said - but then announced that he was resigning as deputy mayor, though would continue as a member of the city council. 

The long-term alliance between Ameriks' nominally business-oriented, conservative Honor to Serve Rīga (GKR) party and the nominally social democrat Harmony party of mayor Nils Ušakovs seems likely to come under strain as each party attempts to distance itself from the scandal, which centers of claims of bribery and profiteering from procurement contracts.    

Later on December 17 GKR decided to back Oļegs Burovs' candidacy to succeed Ameriks as vice mayor. Burovs is a long-standing official heading the Rīga City Council Property Department, a post he has held with brief pauses since 1998.

In 2007 it was Ameriks who recommended Burovs to head the department. 

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