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Saturday 17.03.2018 | Name days: Ģertrūde, Gerda, Gertrūde

Series of deaths in circle of Aivars Lembergs

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Baltic news, News from Latvia, BNN.LV, BNN-NEWS.COM, BNN-NEWS.RU

When people in Ventspils are asked whether the current city mayor has a serious opponent in the 2013 municipal elections, most of them answer: «What nonsense – he is everlasting!» However, this is not true about the people around Aivars Lembergs. They are mortal and, quoting Woland from «The Master and Margarita», sometimes suddenly mortal.

According to the information gathered by the BNN news agency, during the «rule» of Aivars Lembergs, 13 deaths have been registered in his circle. Most of them were sudden or strange, but often both sudden and strange.

«Hand of KGB»

The first was Andrejs Zalāns, who died from heart failure in 1996. He held the office of First Vice-chairman at Ventspils City Council in the beginning of 1990s. When he died, he was only 38 years old.

Zalāns had moved to the city in mid-1980s to manage the construction of a new building for the Soviet Committee for State Security (KGB). It is certain that at the time, people were not selected randomly for jobs of this kind. Namely, it is possible to assume that Zalāns was linked to the KGB and that might be the explanation for him becoming the Vice-Chairman of Aivars Lembergs. This also points to the possible «friendship» between Lembergs and the KGB.

Zalāns’ ideas inspired the founding of a company called Venceb. This enterprise designed and built new buildings and won several large-scale tenders in the free-port and municipality of Ventspils.

It must be noted that following the death of Andrejs Zalāns, Lembergs has not lost his ties with the Zalāns family. The son of Andrejs – lawyer Mārtiņš Zalāns – became a board member at Latvijas Krājbanka, in which it is said the Mayor of Ventspils was highly influential. The wife of Zalāns, however, has held a number of positions in businesses linked to Lembergs.

Generous course-mate

In 1997, the heart of Vitāls Lejiņš failed at the age of 46. Lembergs inherited LVL 2 to 3 million (USD 3.6 to 5.5) from the deceased. Lato Lapsa and Kristīne Jančevska have searched for the reasons of this remarkable generosity in their book «Who is Lembergs? Road to Money and Power of Mayor of Ventspils» («Kas ir Lembergs? Ventspils mēra ceļš uz naudu un varu»). According to the book, Lejiņš and Lembergs had been course-mates.

The mysterious money Lejiņš left to Lembergs, is considered to be a turning point in the life of the latter as it allowed him to become a legal millionaire. Many people who knew Lejiņš were reluctant to talk about him. Nevertheless, authors of the book managed to collect a considerable amount of indirect evidence: information on the personality of Lejiņš and his way of life, information on his average earnings in the company Inter–Rīga and the University of Latvia.

Here is a version of Lejiņš’ role in the life of Lembergs: when Lejiņš thought of setting up the company Inter–Rīga, he had asked Lembergs to lend him money. Lembergs lent him start-up capital in exchange of a peculiar service. Namely, the task of Lejiņš was to accumulate the funds of Lembergs and to include these funds in the testament of Lejiņš to the benefit of Lembergs. Lejiņš agreed, but when he succeeded in business, he offered to return the debt and cancel the agreement.

This was not to the advantage of the Mayor of Ventspils, as the larger part of his funds were piled up in bank accounts of offshore companies, however, he needed quick access to money in Latvia. It might be assumed that the death of Lejiņš was beneficial to Lembergs for the reason that it might have allowed him to turn the accumulated funds into cash, legalise them and acquire the successfully running Inter-Rīga.

Suicide as a solution

In 1998, suicide was committed by lawyer Andis Bumbieris. At the time, he was the legal advisor to Minister of Economics Laimonis Stujevičs – another Lembergs’ man. Few days before his unfortunate decision, Bumbieris visited the Bureau for Combating Organised Crime and Corruption, where he spent four hours. It is not known in detail what he talked about while at the Bureau, but among other issues, he has said that he was deeply concerned about the situation at work, where he had been ordered to draw up documents in breach of law.

Law enforcement officers performed surveillance of his apartment in order to ensure his protection, however, nothing suspicious was registered. Few days after, Andris Bumbieris took his life. The criminal case into the fact of his death was soon dismissed. Investigators came to the conclusion that the suicide had taken place «without the influence of external force».

The media reported subsequently that several persons had visited him on the day of his death, but Bumbieris’ widow is said to be afraid to talk about this event.

As regards controversial decisions of the time, the Ministry of Economics was able to change means of payment in the process of privatisation allowing the purchase of state-owned companies by paying with privatisation certificates, instead of money, for the larger part of company value. Thus the new owners might be able to acquire company securities «for a song». Bumbieris had stood against this initiative of Strujevičs.

Found murdered

Businessmen Josif Berman was killed in 1999. However, in the beginning of 1990s, Berman had participated in a number of court proceedings with the aim of regaining ownership of some of his real estate property in Ventspils. He claimed that Aivars Lembergs and the Ventspils City Council was creating various obstacles not to allow the real estate property come into the hands of its legal heirs. The Mayor of Ventspils accused Berman of distributing information that hurts his honour and dignity.

There is no evidence linking Lembergs to the death of Bermans, nevertheless the disappearance of the latter was highly favourable to Lembergs: first, the obtrusive person did not disturb Lembergs anymore and, second, the respective real estate in Ventspils remained under his supervision.

Here is a comment on this murder: «Initially, he was only considered missing and Aivars Lembergs described this disappearance as being slightly suspicious. But later, when it turned out that the businessman was dead, Mayor of Ventspils, if we can believe the news agency archive, asked Valentīns Kokalis, the board member of Ventspils nafta and board chairman of LatRosTrans, whether he would like to become just as popular as businessman Josif Berman, who was killed.»

A pawn in the big game

2001 was the year when Natālija Strīga died. She represented public interests in the joint stock company Kālija parks. The company was established in 1993 in line with the decision of Andrejs Dandzbergs, the then Maritime Affairs Minister of Latvia.

The founders of the company were Ventspils tirdzniecības osta, Multinord AG, Ventkālijs and the Board of Ventspils People’s Deputy Council. The state agreed to take part in Kālija parks, provided that it will receive USD 1 for every ton of potassium salt handled at the company.

However, already in 1994, shareholders of Kālija parks deleted this paragraph from the contract noting that they will regulate this issue in the revised version of company by-law. When revised version was published, it did not contain this paragraph.

Consequently, the state did not receive the compensation pertaining to it. As a result of changed conditions of privatisation, the state received LVL 2.2 million (USD 4 million), whereas it was due to receive USD 30 million. From the part of the state, this decision was signed by state authorised representative Natālija Strīga.

In 1999, the then Prime Minister Andris Šķēle announced that by signing this document she had caused damages to the state in the amount LVL 30 million (USD 55 million). The Ministry of Finance, in 2001, sued the shareholders of Kālija parks demanding them to pay LVL 17.5 million (USD 32 million) to the state. A year after, legal action was dropped and this decision was made by Minister Gundars Bērziņš.

An agreement on the division of spheres of influence between Lembergs and Šķēle is considered to be the cause for this decision. Meanwhile, the pawn of the big game – Natālija Strīga – had died. Theoretically, she might have been blamed for disregarding state interests.

Heart fails

In 2003, Ritvars Šams, the then board chairman of joint-stock company Venceb also died in uncertain circumstances. He died suddenly while travelling by ferry to World Ice Hockey Championships in Finland. The version that he had been heavily intoxicated with alcohol and fell overboard has not been officially confirmed.

In 2006, failed the heart of Zigurds Vaivods, aged 42, who took the post of council chairman of joint-stock company Latvijas kuģniecība. The Mayor of Ventspils had strong influence and great ambition in this company. Vaivods also worked on the preparation of Latvijas Kuģniecība for its privatisation.

The heart of Krists Skuja failed in 2009. He was regarded as the coordinator of the «grey» cash flow of Lembergs and as the person who ensured the link between the Mayor of Ventspils and other politicians.

Laimonis Junkers, said to be the «casher» of Lembergs and of the Ventspils group, died the same year and with the same diagnosis. According to the testimony of his accomplices, he was in charge of the income and spending of the, so-called, 5% foundation, and also conducted the buying of politicians. In 2007, he became a suspect in the criminal case of Ventspils officials; soon, however, he disappeared from Latvia. An international search warrant was issued for him. In became known in 2009 that he had died in Paraguay. Junkers was buried in Ventspils, the Mayor also attended the funeral.

Very interesting information was published in press on the basis of U.S. diplomatic reports leaked by Wikileaks. It concerned talks with Prosecutor General Jānis Maizītis at the U.S. Embassy in Latvia. Maizītis had unveiled his concern that three Latvian oligarchs Lembergs, Šķēle and Šlesers endanger the democracy of Latvia.

At a meeting with U.S. Ambassador in October 2009, soon after Saeima rejected the approval of judge Māris Vīgants, who sent suspect Aivars Lembergs to prison, the Prosecutor General had come to the conclusion that the three oligarchs had joined their forces to work against Vīgants. This, to the opinion of Maizītis, was another attempt to discourage the fighting spirit of prosecutor’s office.

He has also said that following the arrest of Lembergs, many potential witnesses had fled from Latvia. Among them the so-called «casher» of Lembergs, who had ensured the buying of politicians. He had offered to testify against Lembergs, if Maizītis would ensure not to bring charges against the witness. Maizītis had agreed.

The «casher», however, (the name is not mentioned in the report, but it is assumed that Maizītis ment Laimonis Junkers) did not manage to testify, for the reason that he died suddenly. Moreover, this was the third mysterious death of a witness in Lemberg’s case.

Lives in the second, falls from the fifth

In 2010, suicide was committed by Vents Kodols, a special authorised representative of Latvijas kuģniecība. His main task was to represent the interests of the company in a criminal case about the defrauding of more than USD 10 million from the company between 2003 and 2005. The case was introduced by the new pro-Lembergs management of Latvijas kuģniecība against its previous management, which had been chaired by Oļegs Stepanovs, the opponent of the Mayor of Ventspils.

There are unclear facts in the death of Kodols. His apartment was situated on the second floor, but he fell from the 5th. There is an unconfirmed version that he had let the villains in and, to avoid fighting in front of his small child, he had run up the stairs and, despite being physically strong, had lost the fight.

A criminal case was introduced about the death of Kodols, but it was soon dismissed.

Nobody needs witnesses

In 2012, acute heart failure took the life of Jurijs Bespalovs, a businessman and president of football club Ventspils. He was also a witness in Lembergs’ criminal case.

It is assumed that he, through an offshore company called Regina, represented the interests of the Mayor of Ventspils in the privatisation of Latvijas kuģniecība. According to the materials of the criminal case, the signature of Bespalovs was on documents related to the privatisation of Latvijas kuģniecība.

In addition, there is ground to believe that he had given large bribes to political parties Latvijas ceļš (Latvian Way), Tautas partija (People’s Party) and Tēvzemei un brīvībai (For the Fatherland and Freedom). Jurijs Bespalovs died suddenly on April 4, but on April 5, he had to testify in Lembergs’ case at the Riga Regional Court.

The last death in the long line took place this year – Gunārs Zellītis died from a stroke or heart attack. Zellītis was a member of the Ventspils City Council in the 1990s, he had chaired the Commission of Privatisation, which made the decision to transfer large Ventspils transit companies to the private sector. In the end of 2012, he was summoned for interrogation at the Office of Prosecutor General. The next interrogation was due in January 2013, however, he was not able to arrive at the Office of Prosecutor General.


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