Latvian oligarch hits back at corruption charges as U.S. clamps down

Latvian politician and oligarch Aivars Lembergs, sanctioned this week by the U.S. over alleged corruption, hit back on Tuesday, saying allegations against him were “fake news” and instigated by his political opponents.

The sanction means U.S. citizens are prohibited from doing business with Lembergs and four entities the U.S. says he owns or controls and which are crucial to the running of Ventspils port, Latvia’s second largest.

The port has an important transit role in the region – transporting oil products and coal out of the Baltics.

The U.S. sanction creates a headache for Latvia, which moved on Tuesday to ensure the port could still operate.

“Americans are being used in internal political infighting,” Lembergs told a news conference in Ventspils. “I don’t have a chance to defend myself just like during Stalin’s regime in the Soviet Union.”

Lembergs had already been suspended as mayor of Ventspils by Latvian authorities due to an ongoing investigation into charges of corruption and money laundering. Lembergs has denied any wrongdoing in that case. He has served as mayor of the city for more than 30 years.

The influential politician was once a candidate for prime minister and has business ties with Russia.