Officers from Latvia’s Corruption Prevention Bureau (KNAB) searched both Riga city council offices and the home of the city’s mayor Nils Usakovs on January 30.
KNAB did not reveal the reason for the searches, saying only that it was part of an ongoing criminal investigation.
It follows a serious corruption scandal concerning municipal transport company Rigas Satiksme (Riga Transport) that claimed the job of deputy mayor Andris Ameriks in December. Later that month, six people were detained in Latvia and another two in Poland as part of the probe into Rigas Satiksme tenders.
According to reports in the Latvian press, KNAB officers searched the offices of Usakovs, leader of the pro-Russian centre-left Harmony party, at the city council building, leaving with documents and computers, The Baltic Course reported. They also searched Usakovs’ Riga home, again taking with them several bags that appeared to contain documents.
Speaking to reporters in Riga, Usakovs denied any wrongdoing, saying: “Honestly, I promise that my conscience is clear.” He also insisted he did not plan to step down.
“The most important thing I want to say to those who favoured our list a year and a half ago is that I personally do not engage in any illegal activity,” Usakovs wrote in a statement posted on Twitter. “Riga continues to work as normal,” he added.
However, opposition politicians say they will seek to have the politician removed. Vilnis Ķirsis of the Unity party said that Usakovs should resign immediately. “[T]he opposition of the Riga City Council is ready to help him take this step, so we have begun collecting signatures to convene an extraordinary meeting to release him,” Ķirsis tweeted as news of the searches broke. “It looks like my Christmas wish is coming to fruition,” he added.
“Nils Usakovs, as a coward, of course, does not intend to depart from the position of the Chairman of the Riga City Council, therefore all opposition parties of the Riga City Council have signed and submitted a request to convene an extraordinary meeting to suspend Mr Ushakov,” Ķirsis commented also on Twitter later in the day.
“The Corruption Prevention and Combating Bureau informs that today, on January 30, in the framework of the criminal proceedings initiated earlier, the office carried out criminal proceedings, including court-sanctioned searches at several addresses. At present, no person is subject to a custodial security measure,” said a KNAB statement.
“The KNAB states that no person shall be presumed guilty until proved guilty according to the law,” it added.
Harmony won the largest share of the vote in the Latvian general election on October 6, scooping 19.8% of the vote and 23 seats in the 100-seat parliament.
However, other parties once again came together to form a broad coalition to ensure it was isolated from power. Harmony’s apparent pro-Russia stance is a political liability in Latvia, once a part of the Soviet Union and currently an enthusiastic member of the EU and Nato.
The party, which has recently revamped itself with a social-democratic gloss, won the most votes in the three previous elections too, yet it was invariably pushed aside by a coalition government of other parties.