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article imageLatvia names new MEP as suspect in kick-back probe

By AFP     Jul 3, 2019 in World

Latvia's anti-corruption bureau on Wednesday named the leader of the country's most popular political party as a suspect in an ongoing corruption probe.

The probe into the activities of Nils Usakovs, who leads the pro-Kremlin Harmony party and was elected to the European parliament in May, stretches back to his decade-long tenure as mayor of Latvia's capital city, Riga.

"In the criminal investigation, launched in November 2018, pertaining to the city-owned transportation company Rigas Satiksme, there are currently eight suspects, including Usakovs, the former mayor of Riga," Inta Nolle, a spokeswoman for Latvia's KNAB Anti-corruption Bureau, told AFP in a Wednesday email.

Nolle declined to disclose further details of the ongoing investigation.

The Latvian government sacked Usakovs as mayor of Riga in April for what it called "gross negligence and systematic, shameless financial misconduct" in connection with a probe into alleged kick-backs on bus and tram purchases worth several hundred million euros for at Rigas Satiksme.

KNAB investigators are examining whether Usakovs could have been implicated in the alleged kick-backs.

In December 2018, six high-profile suspects, including Rigas Satiksme CEO Leons Bemhens and Maris Martinsons, one of the richest businesspeople in Latvia, were arrested in the probe.

Staunchly denying any wrongdoing, Usakovs ran for and won one of EU member Latvia's eight seats in the European Parliament in May.

Unconfirmed press reports said this week that the KNAB suspects Usakovs of illegally videotaping people visiting his office while he served as mayor of the capital Riga.

"During the search of my office, a self-made recording device was found on a shelf among souvenirs and official gifts," Usakovs wrote in a Tuesday Facebook post.

"I'm surprised that this piece of junk has made me an official suspect," he added.

Usakovs' Facebook posts include snaps of him in Strasbourg on Tuesday during the first sitting of the European Parliament.

Critics have accused him of seeking to use the legal immunity he is afforded as an MEP to avoid any judicial action that may result from the criminal probe.

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