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Friday 10.04.2020 | Name days: Anita, Anitra, Zīle

Exclusive | Valentīns Kokalis details secret talks held in Lembergs’ hunting lodge and backstage political puppetry

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

Valentīns Kokalis

«Jurijs Bespalovs was one of the first to speak out against Aivars Lembergs. But he could not take the pressure. Falling to his knees, he begged to not be punished. Meanwhile Lembergs told us at one meeting – watch out so that it doesn’t happen to any of you! Who else could drop to their knees before me and cry?»

Once one of Lembergs’ trusted people, ex-prosecutor of Ventspils, once the vice-president of Ventspils Nafta, as well as board chairman of SIA LatRosTrans Valentīns Kokalis, who later decided to oppose the system formed against him, shares in an open conversation with journalist Simona Šjadīte information about the backstage of Lembergs’ politics, influence over State Revenue Service (SRS), and how the man accused of committing serious crimes had blasted Latvia’s prime ministers with curse words.

It should be said that the aforementioned Bespalovs, who was once a board member of Ventamonjaks, was a very important witness in Lembergs’ criminal case. He was supposed to testify on 5 April 2012, but this was not to be. He died of acute heart failure the day prior – 4 April.

Conversations at Lembergs’ hunting lodge – hard to list the people who hadn’t been there!

«After one of many Saeima elections Lembergs brought with him a sheet of paper with a list and named a quota – we need our own economy minister, who should be put? I told Aivars – you! He said – not me. Let’s put you, Valentīns. I tell him – I’m a lawyer, what can I do? I recommended Krists Skuja. He says – no, no. Who’s the economist at Ventamonjaks? Strujevičs. Oh, let’s put him. And so the officials were appointed,» Kokalis recalls the conversations held at Lembergs’ hunting lodge.

And so Laimonis Strujevičs served as Latvia’s Economy Minister between 4 May and 26 November 1998. His legal affairs advisor was Andris Bumbieris. The latter committed suicide later in 1998.

In 1998 Skuja was appointed president of Ventamonjaks. He died of heart failure in 2009. He was considered one of the coordinators of Lembergs’ «black» finances and a person who provided contacts with politicians.

Continuing on the topic of Lembergs’ hunting lodge, Kokalis stresses: «So many people had been there – Russian ambassadors, politicians, businessmen, etc. And, of course, officials were properly coordinated for their posts.»

He stresses that the hunting lodge was used to drink and discuss topics with many different political parties in Latvia. «Considering how well [Lembergs] gets along with Russian services, there should be no question – whatever is needed, it is resolved there.»

Kokalis does not hide that once, people from the prosecution office visited the hunting lodge as well. To, say, harmonise the opinions.

He notes that in the past, Lembergs had helped generously to the prosecution office. This way, according to him, Arvīds Kalniņš, who currently serves as the chief prosecutor of the Criminal Justice Department at the Prosecutor General’s Office of Latvia, had acquired an apartment with the help of Lembergs. Kokalis made no secret that he himself had expressed gratitude over the benevolence of Lembergs: «Once, as a prosecutor, I went on tribune to support him for some fifteen times a day.» Answering the question whether, he thought, this influence can still be felt in the prosecution office, he says: «I don’t go to the hunting lodge anymore. I’m not allowed to enter it.»

Asked, if prosecutors went to meet Lembergs in the hunting lodge, when criminal proceedings were opened against him, Kokalis replies: «They have gone to visit to harmonise opinions. Not the ones, who investigate, but prosecutors general and deputy prosecutors general have gone to visit.»

Kokalis tells that the first director general of the SRS, Andrejs Sončiks had been agreed upon in the hunting lodge of Lembergs.

At the time, one of the ministers had brought Sončiks to Lembergs with a question: «Can we take this fellow?»

Andrejs Sončiks was appointed the director general of the SRS in 1996.

«After that pal of Sončiks came, the SRS changed – a very dishonest organisation [of work was created there],» believes Kokalis.

Answering the question, whether, in his view, such an organisation of work had been preserved in the service, he says: «I think yes.»

Kokalis also makes no secret that he has recently met with the current SRS director Ieva Jaunzeme. Asked, what was the conversation about, the says: «About taxes. I told her about cheats – about the same Sončiks as well». She had suggested Kokalis to go to the Latvian Corruption Prevention and Combating Bureau (KNAB): «She expressed unwillingness to use internal resources to verify if the information was true.»

According to Kokalis, Jaunzeme is not a bad worker, just «a civil servant to the very bone».

«Nationals are Lembergs’ friends from a bygone age»

When asked which parties he believes Lembergs supports, Kokalis said: «Though I support of the ideology used by the National Alliance, I have never once voted for them. Nationals are Lembergs’ friends from a bygone age.»

«I don’t know Raivis Dzintars personally. Imants Parādnieks, on the other hand, fixed up stairs and built a fireplace in my house. But the so-called old members – they have all sat at the table [with Lembergs], they were all paid,» says Kokalis.

According to him, it is impossible for Unity to be under Lembergs’ influence right now. On top of that, Kokalis believes Lembergs is unable to influence the parties led by Artuss Kaimiņš and Jānis Bordāns.

«Harmony – he’s always been friends with them. Let’s look at Harmony’s founder – [Jānis] Urbanovičs. I carried money for him personally. I stood outside the Saeima, freezing. Lembergs handed me some 10 000 [LVL]. I didn’t normally carry money, but I was on my way to Riga anyway that time.»

«Once, I’d seen Lembergs blast Latvia’s prime ministers with curse words. He was ‘explaining in a comprehensive way’ what they should do. I won’t name them, they are still alive. There was a meeting with foreigners, and after speaking with the prime minister he just turned to them and said – sorry, I’m talking to the prime minister here,» Kokalis shares his memories.

He adds that Lembergs had tried behaving in such a way with Andris Šķēle as well. «Šķēle had just told him then – go and do some work yourself,» adding that Lembergs will no longer come every Monday, telling what to do and which laws to approve.’ According to Kokalis, Lembergs’ involvement in state politics was – «parties were punished, their money frozen, not payments provided until Lembergs got his got his way».

Kokalis adds: «I was a member of his [Lembergs] party. He financed social democrats, LNNK, Latvian Way – nearly all parties.»

The moment when Lembergs became so influential in Latvia

«Currency reserves started appearing and settling in out-of-budget resources – he could do whatever he wanted with this money.»

«He became influential when the Soviet Union collapsed. Even before its collapse, when the Environment Protection Club had appeared in Latvia, Ventspils included. Ģirts Valdis Kristovskis and other people had worked there at the time. They were prepared to lie down on the railway to prevent the poisoning of the environment with chemicals carried from Russia to Ventspils,» says Kokalis.

According to him, Lembergs had «snatched» this idea. «With people’s blessing he left for Moscow, met with then the Mayor of Moscow Yury Luzhkov and others. He threatened closing down ports in Ventspils, demanded money from Russia for healthcare, currency transfer. Currency reserves started appearing and settling in out-of-budget resources – he could do whatever he wanted with this money,» says Kokalis.

«Out-of-budget finances were in foreign currency, US dollars, which were charged from companies that worked more or less honestly. Or dishonestly. Most likely dishonestly. Ventspils’ out-of-budget funds were larger than Latvia’s budget in 1990s.

You can imagine what he could do with this money – found new political parties, purchase publishing houses, found mass media outlets,» adds Kokalis.

«I remember this one time Kristovskis was not in the city council but the executive committee, and Lembergs was this executive committee’s chairman. Deputies asked him to provide a report on out-of-budget finances, but Lembergs gave them nothing. And so Kristovskis never got the report from him as to how the money was used.»

«Meanwhile, the money was used to found joint stock companies. He, a private person, procured equipment. After some time said equipment is sold, probably for a cheap price. And so a wood processing company is built. Then there was Ventbetons. All the concrete-mixing equipment was bought using out-of-budget funds and then privatized again,» says Kokalis.

«And this is how he amassed his wealth – very considerable wealth. Having a lot of money gives a man illusion that he is god. Once the thought settles in, this person no longer considers it necessary to listen to anyone.»

«At first he sort of formed a team,» Kokalis comments how he started representing Lembergs’ interests.

«Lembergs formed a team of a dozen or so people and gathered with them every Monday in the so-called oval hall to discuss matters. Each member of the team was able to say their mind about topics, but only one person made decisions. Lembergs would send people on business talks throughout Latvia and outside it. People would laugh – where is Aivars? They replied – Aivars sent us to talk with you. And the businessmen would laugh again – why would we discuss anything with you if he’s the one making decisions?» Kokalis describes how it went.

Kokalis does not hide he could not wrap his head around the fact that Lembergs was using shared money for his personal needs.

«6% from transit was given by Lembergs to anyone he wanted, and he answered no questions.»

Kokalis says he had asked Lembergs a question where he keeps all this money – it was quite a considerable amount. «You think he told me anything? Meanwhile the money from transit funds kept growing bigger and bigger,» says Kokalis.

He also recalled that one of the biggest conflicts he had with Lembergs was during the Paedophile Scandal, when Lembergs’ controlled media had reported, so to say, «rumours» about Valdis Birkavs.

«This is uncomfortable for me to say that I had financed and had even participated in the spreading of rumours. I have never considered Birkavs a paedophile – I’ve known him since the Soviet era.»

Kokalis notes he was unhappy that Lembergs provide his opinions to the media on behalf of everyone without asking their opinions first. «We gathered for a meeting and I said – you don’t do that, this is our money and we own the mass media together. If you decide to make such a decision, at least coordinate with the rest of us, don’t talk on behalf of others nation-wide about such topics.»

«Lembergs then asked me how this topic should be handled.» Kokalis notes here that he had proposed counting everyone’s shares and then holding a vote. Lembergs was sceptical at first, but Kokalis nevertheless remembers that Lembergs’ associate Oļegs Stepanovs, who did not attend meetings and instead entrusted his vote to Lembergs, had agreed with Kokalis.

Lembergs said – fine, have Valentīns develop a regulations, says Kokalis. «I still have it somewhere home. I’d made it, handed copies to Krists Skuja, who was then the committee’s head, but he said Aivars had a look at it, tore it to shreds and tossed it in the bin. This was one of the first steps towards problems.»

The next unexpected announcement – that Kokalis would stand candidate for the post of mayor of Ventspils – was, according to himself, «a foolish move» on his part.

According to Kokalis, he and his partners were on their way from a conference held in England. «At some point [Olafs] Berķis tells me – listen, Valentīns, elections are just around the corner. We’ve all had enough of Lembergs. Why don’t you become mayor?»

«We had a good laugh, and we had a party later in the evening. Next morning, however,» Kokalis says, «I received a call from the media. They were asking about my alleged plans to become mayor. I was half-asleep and said maybe. And then it ended up in the hands of the press.»

«On the same day he [Lembergs] called a meeting with all fifteen of us, asking about the whole thing, about Valentīns serious considering becoming mayor.»

Kokalis remembers Lembergs’ authoritarian rule from time when he was board chairman of LatRosTrans. «Without consulting anyone, Lembergs had dismissed Igors Skoks. The latter found out about this decision from the papers,» says Kokalis.

Kokalis believes Lembergs uses financial attacks to expand his influence. According to him, this approach works. As an example, Kokalis mentions what happened with Jānis Blaževičs.

«All actual beneficiaries of Ventbunkers except for Blaževičs were invited to one of the meetings. I asked – where is Blaževičs?» Kokalis says Lembergs said in response – hold up, we’re just going to go through this year’s account, quickly divide up the money, and Blaževičs will come after and we’ll have a second account.

«What’s the difference between the two? Lembergs said he did not like that Blaževičs was «cheating» with the privatization process, he said Blaževičs is not smart enough for it, which is why he had decided this way,» says Kokalis.

The amount was divided among the rest, whereas Blaževičs lost a considerable amount, Kokalis continues.

«One budget was with profit, whereas the other had no such profit. I told Blaževičs. He said nothing. At all. He just remained silent. A good Communist party man. He knew there would be a scandal and problems, and he could have been booted out. So he just forced himself to get over that million. I didn’t oppose him.»

«Aivars Lemgergs has lost much of his power. If we compare him to a [three-headed] dragon, then he has only one head left – his own. Lembergs no longer has the influence he once had,» says Kokalis.

«An example of that would be the inauguration of Latvia’s President Egils Levits this year. Where was Lembergs trilby? This proves that something is definitely changing in the country. It seems odd that a person who is accused of serious crimes, likely with reason, otherwise the court would have found him not guilty a long time ago, meets with the country’s leading politicians. Meanwhile, these politicians shake hands with him. Meeting is one thing – but shaking hands is more buddy-like,» comments Kokalis.

Kokalis believes Levits will not pardon Lembergs if he gets a prison sentence.

He also stresses that the Office of the Prosecutor General will get a new chief in less than a year. «With our current prime minister in power, I don’t think Lembergs can hope for an outcome beneficial for him.» According to Kokalis, the next elections hold the key for Lembergs’ only way out. «This is when it will be possible to shuffle the board and make things right.»

«As he said in ‘oligarch talks’ – put your own president for X hour, just in case you need amnesty. But time has passed, Vējonis has left and he no longer has to do it,» says Kokalis.

«Aivars had a whiskey bottle on the table – everyone was full and they were, so to speak, discussing things. Šķēle never offered drinks»

As for the parliamentary committee for the investigation of oligarch talks and its report, Kokalis has this to say: «What kind of committee could it be if nearly all parties were financed by oligarchs? What else did you expect?»

Kokalis believes Andris Šķēle and Ainārs Šlesers are good businessmen. As for Lembergs: «He is not a businessman. He is a man who still uses municipal and state resources. Those two, on the other hand, no longer do.» The difference between them, according to Kokalis, is this: «Šķēle was in charge of the country as prime minister and Šlesers was in charge of ministries. Meanwhile, Lembergs has never done any of that publicly. He said – we will be the ones standing and moving everyone else, why should be walk in front?»

Kokalis says he knows Šķēle better than he knows Šlesers – the two worked on projects together. «I can name the best thing when compared to Aivars [Lembergs]. Aivars had a whiskey bottle on the table – everyone was full and they were, so to speak, discussing things. Šķēle never offered drinks. When we finished discussions, he would leave – have a drink if you want. For him to sit there, drink and discuss business? Never,» Kokalis recalls.

As for Šlesers, he says the following: «He’s always shameless and insistent. He can call you over the phone five to six times in the middle of the night. If someone calls me five to six times a day, I think that person is sick. Normal people use text messages.»

«One accused, one victim, some four witnesses and a pile of documents proving Lembergs was taking money from all sides,» believes Kokalis.

In regards to the progress with Lembergs’ criminal case, Kokalis mentions: «When I was a witness and victim in this criminal case, I took it seriously. Then I realized it is nothing more than showing off.»

Kokalis has not attended all criminal cases, only his own episode. «The crime he accused of in my episode, also «costs» around seven years in prison for bribe extortion, if I’m not mistaken. I think the prosecution wants some six years in prison for him. This is an episode that took half an hour of my life. What is so difficult about it that they still cannot make heads or tails of it?»

«One accused, one victim, some four witnesses and a pile of documents proving Lembergs was taking money from all sides,» says Kokalis.

He does not hide the fact that a meeting was held at Ugāle bathhouse several days prior to Lembergs’ arrest in 2007. «We discussed things there for some four hours or so. Everything went as normal. Then he was arrested and we’ve never met since.» He adds – this Lembergs is not the same as the Lembergs of 1990. «The fear of him losing something or someone stealing from him has made him a very lonely man – there is nothing to talk about with him.»

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