Rīgas satiksme corruption case turns three; money trail leads all the way to Asia

Three years ago Latvia’s Corruption Prevention and Combating Bureau (KNAB) carried out massive searches at Riga City Council, Rīgas satiksme and homes of multiple officials over suspicions of bribery in transport procurements.
Following the changes to the company’s management multiple audit procedures were initiated. Criminal cases were commenced based on results of those audits in relation to contracts signed for political consultation services.
LTV programme De Facto reported on Sunday, 19 December, that police continue investigating not only RS but also consultants of other municipal businesses. KNAB reports that the money trail in RS corruption case leads all the way to Asia.
Aside from the former head of RS Leons Bemhens, Czech Škoda Transportation commercial director Vladislav Kozak, scandalous businessman Māris Martinsons and his associates Edgars Teterovskis and Elīna Kokina there is information about some Latvian lawyers who rights for defence in this criminal case. Two more suspects have died in the last three years: Igors Volkinšteins, who was in charge of procurement projects in RS and businessman Aleksandrs Krjačeks, whose firms Alkom-Serviss and Alkom-Trans provided maintenance to RS.
KNAB detained this group over possible bribery in relation to tramway, trolleybus and bus procurement contracts worth EUR 270 million.
KNAB believes bribes equal to at least 5% of contract amounts came from Czech Škoda Transportation and Škoda Electric, as well as Polish Solaris Bus & Coach, De facto reminds.
Complicated schemes were used to launder the money and hide recipients. KNAB together with Polish and Czech law enforcers continues investigating the money flow.
«There have been approximately 20 European investigation orders issued. Requests for legal assistance have been sent to different countries – both EU members states and countries outside the EU,» said KNAB Criminal Investigations Chief Andrejs Lisenko.
«There are EU members states and countries in which getting information is more difficult, such as Hong Kong and China. We have also received information from nearby countries and even Cyprus. As you can see – there is a lot of ground to cover. From some countries we request account information, from others – information about businesses and persons who are owners or were involved in the founding of said businesses.»
KNAB is still waiting for responses from about five information requests.
This is why the bureau avoids giving any estimates as to when the next stage of the investigation could commence.
There are two senior prosecutors supervising this case – Juris Ločmelis supervises the investigation of the Polish direction and Māris Urbāns – the Czech direction.
Prosecutor Urbāns does not believe three years of investigation is too long: «The bribe amount definitely exceeded several million euros. The investigation tested several versions as to who the bribes were paid. You have to understand – tracing a global flow of finances is not an easy task.»
«The investigation has not stopped – we are simply waiting for responses to our requests for aid,» adds Urbāns. «Another important task is analysis received information.»
The European Anti-Fraud Office or OLAF has assisted Latvian authorities in information evaluation. This assistance was very useful, the prosecutor adds.
So far there is only one former official among suspects – Leons Bemhens.
He is one of the four defendants – former RS board members – in a civil case in which the company requests a return of EUR 1.3 million of losses that appeared from hiring 16 possibly fictive consultants. The viewing of the case has yet to commence properly – this week the court discussed a request from Bemhens’ representative to perform an analysis of RS electronic documents system. Next year the court will decide whether or not put the trial on hold to allow this analysis to be performed. This means the trial may go even longer.
Aside from the four former board members there are also 15 consultants or their representatives participating in the trial.
Last week former Riga City Council deputies Jefimijs Klementjevs and Andris Bērziņš, public relations specialist and once a journalist Konstantīns Gaņins, once an activist of Harmony’s Youth Association Aleksejs Futs presented their case to the court. Now RS comments that the consultation contracts signed with those people and others were fictive or completely unnecessary.
More than 40 people are under investigation by State Police Organized Crime Enforcement Office. Most of them are reluctant to testify.
Currently there is one person with the right for defence in this criminal procedure. Police do not reveal the name of this person.
The most logical conclusion is that Bemhens is this person. His lawyer Ivo Klotiņš denies this, however. He told the programme that his client has not yet been interviewed as part of this criminal case.
Because most consultants were related to two parties – Harmony and Honour to Serve Riga – police also look into possible illegal financing of political parties using wages paid to those consultants. Police do not say when the case could be handed to the prosecutor.