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Wednesday 19.02.2020 | Name days: Zane, Zuzanna

Enough evidence, yet «Lembergs case» may still take years, says prosecutor

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

«We, the public prosecution, can say with at least half-certainty that the proceedings will continue for a long time. We can see attempts to delay the criminal process – specifically during debates. Thus, the debates with the defence are not likely to end sooner than in 2020 and that is the best scenario. If this continues without more active involvement of the courts, the process may last several more years,» BNN was told by prosecutor Juris Juriss, responsible for the criminal case against the suspended Mayor of Ventspils, Aivars Lembergs.

«There is sufficient proof for the court to announce a verdict»

During legal debates, Juriss asked the court to sentence Lembergs to eight years of prison with confiscation of property and a fine of EUR 64,500. However, as the prosecutor told BNN, the court process is being actively delayed and this situation is permitted by the existing «blurry regulations» of criminal proceedings. Thus, the requested penalty might not come sooner than a couple of years from now.

Nevertheless, the prosecutor notes: «I believe, there is sufficient proof to blame him of committing crimes and for the court to find him guilty.»

Influence of money extends proceedings

The prosecutor says that in the court justice system it is possible for wealthy people to prolong and complicate legal proceedings. «This is apparent in practice.»

One of the mechanisms that complicate the proceedings, according to Juriss, is the influence such people have over the media. «I have reasons to mention that Neatkarīgā Rīta Avīze in the past decade has interviewed me at least twice about the details of the proceedings. At the same time, in the past, there were two to three articles surfaced almost every week, journalists of the newspaper appeared at court proceedings with surprising regularity.» According to the prosecutor, everything reported about the case represents a one-sided opinion, and not every accused person can afford something like that. «And this is the enormous difference – pressure can be exercised in such a way,» the prosecutor comments on Lembergs case.

Juriss adds – court proceedings in Latvia that last nearly a decade are usually very complicated. Charges usually cover financial crimes that require very complicated schemes to commit them. «This is not just about criminal cases involving politicians, but also businessmen that can use considerable funds to hire serious legal defence that can exploit flaws in the Criminal Process Law. Perhaps, this is the condition that determines everything we see.»

«How much has the country done to determine the legality of these funds?»

When asked about bail money accused persons pay to be released from prison, the prosecutor comments: «The next question is how efficiently we as state power determine the legality of funds and how much we have accomplished there. If someone assists with allocating the necessary money, there is always the question about the legal origin of this money.»

Juriss believes it is very important to ask a specific question before allowing the payment of bail money: did the accused person have an opportunity to earn the money legally? «How much has the state done to make sure the money in question is legal? This is the lagging topic. Moneyval report proved as well – a large amount of [illegal] money flows through Latvia.»

«This person’s appearance together with high-ranking officials […] – this creates wrong impressions in the minds of the people»

When asked by BNN if long proceedings or so-called complicated cases are delayed by the influence of serious people over the courts and the political system, Juriss responded: «I cannot mention any specific cases, because it would imply there is political pressure used over the court justice system. In any case, there is no pressure being used on us – state prosecutors. Meanwhile, as for the appearance of one or two accused people together with high-ranking officials who voice the country’s positions, without mentioning any specific cases, all this creates the wrong impressions in the minds of the people. This only distances us from the Scandinavian model we like to refer to in public.»

«The penalty is pushed further and further away»

When asked about Latvian court justice system’s biggest obstacles, the prosecutor said one of them is finishing criminal processes within reasonable deadlines backed by evidence.

«For example, if we look at legal debates, specifically their structure, the law does not provide such open opportunities to restrict and dictate contents of debates. Formally the process is governed by law, but in practice it is hard to differentiate and dictate for how long people are allowed to waltz around topics. We have to keep in mind – the more capable the lawyer the more time is wasted on a single piece of evidence, thereby delaying the penalty further and further.» According to the prosecutor, there are justified reasons for the application of coercive measures that could come to force in accordance with court’s will.

As for the mechanism for inviting people to attend court proceedings, Latvia lacks such mechanisms. «We are thinking of ways to regulate this field. Rejection of witnesses presented by the state prosecution is a known practice, whereas the defence now has the option to attract new ones [witnesses], and this process requires time,» the prosecutor explains.

According to Juriss, there is no universal solution to make trying of criminal proceedings faster.

«Generally speaking, 80% of all criminal processes viewed in Latvia’s court justice system are processed quickly. Now, if we look at the remaining 20% of cases, this is where we can speed things up. This is only one category of cases. Additionally, we have to consider that criminal cases that have had a serious public resonance come from those 20%.» The prosecutor notes that existence of a public resonance points to the publicity of the case. It means people want to see it solved. «If the solution does not come for a long time, this may lead to a certain level of disappointment among residents. The country’s court justice system is not interested in letting cases ‘sit’ for a long time,» comments Juriss.

Do you think politicians and high-ranking people in general have influence over Latvia’s courts?

Before sharing his view, Juriss said he would answer as a private person, not as a prosecutor. According to him, there is some synergy. However, he said that to change the situation, state institutions and law enforcement authorities should improve their reputation and do everything they can to cultivate trust in the court justice system among residents. However, he did not deny that the desire of high-ranking officials to influence the country’s court justice system is clearly visible.

As for why residents generally distrust Latvia’s courts and even go as far as to call the entire field corrupt, Juriss said: «It would be foolish to exclude the possibility of such [corruption] cases entirely. As a prosecutor, I cannot claim anything without proof. In any case, the reason why why people talk like that is partially because people generally lack full understanding of the process itself. Another factor is what follows once penalties have been applied. If the courts apply penalties society considers insufficient, we should think about changing the situation.»

The prosecutor notes that jurisprudence and the law do not lead independent lives. «It’s not like the society is one part and law is some other part. The law should be adequate to the needs of the society and not just the needs of Latvia’s society – here we can look at the much wider European Union’s context.»

«Time and time again we’ve seen topics surface about penalties for involvement in circulation of narcotic or psychotropic substances. Some of the proposed penalties were unjustifiably strict, others – too mild. Also, regarding financial crimes – the large amounts of laundered money, it was perfectly understandable to apply conditional imprisonment. Society generally does not understand why money laundering carries a fine worth less than the laundered amount of money. All this creates concerns. Concerns about what? Lack of objectivity. Every person interprets the lack of objectivity differently,» BNN was told by prosecutor Juris Juriss.

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