Donor to Latvia’s Biggest Party Linked to Laundromat

As a successful businessman and a generous donor, Aivars Bergers was a welcome addition to the board of Latvia’s Harmony party almost a decade ago.

Flickr - Saeima - 1. marta Saeimas sēdeHarmony has been the biggest party in Latvia's parliament since 2011 (Photo: Saeima)But the origins of his party donations worth more than €140,000 (US$160,000) are now in question. New revelations show Bergers received payments from offshore companies used in two international money laundering schemes - the Azerbaijani Laundromat and the Magnitsky affair.

In a new leak of banking transactions seen by OCCRP’s Latvian partner, Re:Baltica, Bergers benefited from some of the suspicious accounts that funnelled $10.2 billion from Danske Bank to Swedbank’s Baltic subsidiaries.  

Bergers received four payments totalling €270,000 ($308,000) six months apart in 2010 and 2011. The first came from an account used to launder money in the massive Russian tax fraud uncovered by the late Sergei Magnitsky.

The second came from an account used by the Azerbaijani elite to launder millions of dollars siphoned from their country. The money was used to bribe European politicians, buy luxury cars, and fill the pockets of individuals around the world.

Bergers declined to comment on the transactions, telling Re:Baltica he does not remember receiving the money.

He reacted angrily when asked about the origins of the funds for his political donations.

“You really think that Latvia’s anti-corruption agency is not able to examine donations by persons to political parties, as required by law?” he said.

Over the years, Bergers’ donations have helped Harmony win the most seats in the last three parliamentary elections. His methods of channeling money to the party, however, have also raised suspicions.

Court documents reviewed by Re:Baltica suggest that in addition to his declared political contributions, Bergers gave €53,400 ($61,000) to Harmony’s Riga city councilor Maxim Tolstoy to donate the money on his behalf to NGOs linked to the party. 

Tolstoy was bankrupt at the time and his creditors took him to court after learning of the donations. The politician justified his actions claiming it was not his money but rather Bergers asked him to donate.

Bergers declined to answer Re:Baltica’s questions on the issue.

“I am not convinced by your standpoint that I should give you information because I am a public person,” Bergers said in a telephone interview.  

The Harmony party insisted that the anti-corruption bureau (KNAB) examines all political donations. The press secretary of the party leader, Nils Ušakovs, said he does not know anything about Bergers’ sources of income.

“Given that KNAB has not discovered anything wrong, I assume it’s legal,” he said.