Chapter Seven: Lietuvēns
I don’t know what it is with Rīga’s Old Town. For a place that charms and delights with it’s old world ambiance, it really does attract some living, breathing clown acts. Whenever I’m on my demonic patrols, I usually only head into the Old Town just for entertainment purposes. There’s never a dull moment. If it’s not the antics of those stupid stag parties who constantly disrupt the peace and tranquility of the evening, it might be the occasional intoxicated Australian who provides the floor show for the night. Beer is a low-priced commodity in Latvia, and the Old Town has Latvia’s highest concentration of bar taps. In a land where a lot of work gets done, the Old Town is where the fun gets done.
So, being invisible to the human eye, I hardly have to meet any dress requirements to enter Latvia’s most exclusive clubs. “Face control” does not apply to me. But there’s no special thrill for me to go into one of those places for people who are better than everybody else. I have always found that the most enjoyable experiences are to be had at the bars where any reasonably well-behaved gentleman can go. Cue: The Armoury Bar on Vecpilsēta iela. As you already know, The Armoury Bar is where the Jelgava Circle meet every Tuesday night.
If we take a little stroll down the corridors of time, The Armoury was a place where, on just about any night of the week, you had a better than average chance of running into some guy from Australia called Chris Akenfelds. Honestly, if there were eight days in a week, I’m sure you would have seen this Australian drunkard sitting at the bar eight nights a week, without fail. I have no idea how the bar staff continued to put up with him, nor why.
He was a cheapskate. I never saw him buy anything but the cheapest beers available. Now, if he had been a man of refined taste, I would have expected to see him partaking of a respectable ale, such as Valmiermuiža. But, no, he would go for the lowest priced cat’s piss on tap. If I had been the owner of that bar, I would have charged him rent to sit at the bar. Heaven knows, you’d never make the money out of him if you were waiting for him to buy a decent drink.
Normally, I didn’t take much notice of him. However, there was this one night that I floated into The Armoury during which I happened to be privy to an most extraordinary conversation. Akenfelds, was talking to a beautiful young woman, who should be canonised as a Saint for her patience when the day comes for her to depart this earthly life. My first reaction was to think that he was punching above his weight, just a little. More than just a little. Then, you could have pushed me over with a feather when I saw that Akenfelds was chatting to Sanita. Yes, that Sanita. Jelgava Circle Sanita. Prior to noticing that, I had been planning to head over to Folkklubs Ala Pagrabs for a while. But the chance for me to eavesdrop on the pair was all too irresistible.
From that very moment, I did a quick journey back in time… about a quarter of an hour. I just had to see how the two came to be talking to each other. It started when Akenfelds got talking to one of the bar staff about corruption in Latvia. He was talking about a place on an island in the Daugava River, somewhere in Kokneses Novads, called Likteņdārzs – The Destiny Garden. This is a garden dedicated to victims of the Communist Genocide in Latvia. It was meant to be built by donations from the Latvian public, but Akenfelds had been told by somebody in Koknese that some of the money went mysteriously missing. The implication is that it probably found its way into somebody’s piggy bank. The way this Akenfelds character was railing about it, you’d be forgiven for thinking the money came out of his own pocket. Why would he give a damn about corruption? I don’t think it really affected him in any way. I guess the thought of somebody stealing donated money that was dedicated to honouring the memory of people who suffered under one of the worst episodes in Latvian history must have seemed a little un-Latvian to Akenfelds. He did mention that there are some people in Latvia who should be forced to hand in their Latvian passports and face deportation to somewhere positively charming, like Ungoverned Afghanistan. He continued his scathing rant about corruption and then he dragged up the subject of Valērijs Kapustins.
Honestly, listening to Akenfelds talk about Kapustins, I actually started to feel a little sorry for Kapustins. I mean to say, who cares if Kapustins is an oligarch? Wouldn’t everybody want to be an oligarch if they had the chance? I could imagine being an oligarch would be rather pleasant. Oligarchs live in palatial accommodation. They fly around in private jets. They have superyachts. They can take their holidays in seven star hotels anywhere in the world. They are waited on hand and foot by a bevy of delectable naked women. They don’t have to pay tax. It all sounds pretty good to me. So why should we hate somebody just because they had the smarts to make that lifestyle become a reality? Jealousy is a curse! So what if Kapustins stole a couple billion dollars of taxpayers money? If Kapustins hadn’t stolen it, another oligarch would have stolen it anyway. Why does everybody get so heated up just because one oligarch was successful in stealing all the money? It’s a minor thing. Latvia has survived wars. I’m sure it’s population can survive a few men taking a bit of money to build themselves nice homes. Regardless, we have this Australian talking about it as if it was some kind of global catastrophe.
So what did he get out of this pointless conversation with a staff member? Well for a start, he was graced with the company of a 10/10 stunning beauty, because she couldn’t help overhearing his conversation with the bartender. I have no idea why any young goddess would have bothered. But Sanita did. She talked with him for quite a long time. She even paid for her own drinks, which is probably just as well. I could hardly picture Mr Akenfelds buying her a Moet & Chandon.
So, let’s tune into what they were babbling about. Akenfelds had this to say:
“When I arrived in Latvia, I had no idea there was any serious problems with corruption here. If it hadn’t been for a good friend of mine who told me all about it, I doubt that anybody else would have said anything to me. It was only after hearing about the things that went on in Koknese that I started looking into what was going on in Latvia. I talked to a lot of people who took an active interest in the crimes of the oligarchs in this country. I was shocked by what I heard. How was any of this being allowed to go on by the police and the courts? Why didn’t the cops arrest Kapustins? I was filled with questions. I’ve heard that some people say that the police wouldn’t be able to arrest him, because he could get them killed.”
Sanita replied with an amused smile, “Is that what you’ve been told? Chris, if several Russian tank regiments came tearing across the border into Latvia, would you expect the Latvian Army to fight the invaders?”
“Of course” replied Akenfelds. “The Latvian forces would give it everything they had, because this country has had to suffer under oppressors far too many times, for far too long. Last time, it seems as if the occupiers were practically allowed to walk right in. You had that guy, Karlis Ulmanis, granting permission for Russian troops to enter Latvia, telling people ‘You stay in your place. I’ll stay in mine.’ I think Latvians would fight hard against them this time around. There’d be a lot of civilians who’d form themselves into armed partisan movements, too. Nobody would ever let Moscow rule Latvia again.”
Sanita continued, “So, you’d expect the Latvian Army and it’s civilian population to fight a large invading armoured force, which would almost certainly by supported by combat jets and attack helicopters. Yet, even though Latvia has over 8,000 police officers, you’re telling me that you believe that story that it’s too much to ask for a force of 8,000 police to do their job and arrest this one man?”
“It guess it’s not easy to bring very rich people to justice in a place like Latvia”, said Akenfelds.
“Rubbish, Chris! They could bring him to justice if they wanted to. I’ll admit the Latvian police might need a slightly more expensive battering ram to break down Kapustins’ front door than the ones they use on the doors of ordinary apartments in Purvciems and Maskačka when they’re hunting for teenagers who’ve stolen mobile phones. But once they’re inside the Kapustins villa, I’d estimate they’d probably only go through about twenty euros worth of ammunition to deal with his security team. Then, as soon as they’ve got their hands on Kapustins, they can place him in the same handcuffs that they use for arresting sixteen year old girls they’ve caught stealing chocolate from Narvesen. He can go into the same prison cell they’d use to accommodate your average marijuana dealer. They can even feed him the same crappy food.”
“Yes, Sanita, but I’ll bet Kapustins can afford very expensive lawyers to fight his case.”
“Chris, that belief that you will win every case provided you have the big expensive lawyers, who wear silk ties and shiny shoes, is a myth. If the police do their jobs properly, the prosecution will have damning evidence against him. And if they have the evidence, they have the evidence! It only takes a trio of honest judges to see that the evidence stacks up and then they can find him guilty and send him down the river for the next two decades. Rich men get jailed in other countries when they’re caught doing something wrong. Trust me, Latvia can bring these mongrels to justice. I think there’s a lot of weak excuses being made.”
“So, why are people making excuses then?” asked Akenfelds.
Sanita’s face took a very grim expression.
“Kapustins is paying a lot of people to leave him alone and I think he has a lot of people threatened and blackmailed, too. That’s the only reason I can see why he constantly avoids being the subject of the criminal courts here in Latvia. Due processes don’t seem to apply to him because he has purchased immunity from due processes. But they could get around his threats and even take all his money away from him if a strong and honest President made that courageous decision to direct an elite police squad, supported by the Latvian Army and the Latvian National Guard, to surround his villa in Jūrmala and bring him in. He could be neutralised in the space of 30 minutes. Less, even. But they don’t do this, because our politicians prefer all the bribes they get from him. That’s how some of them can buy apartments in Monaco.”
Akenfelds realised at that moment that Kapustins reigns in Latvia like a Marquess. He was above the law.
“Well, as they say, in a democracy people get the government they deserve. Maybe Latvians should take a bit more interest in their elections and start voting a few people out of power. Sanita, I’ve got a question that’s been on my mind for a long time: why are there no rival oligarchs in Latvia?”
“What do you mean?” asked Sanita.
“Well, given these oligarchs are just thugs in expensive suits, I wonder why they haven’t started killing each other yet? You’d think a turf war would have broken out by now.”
Sanita looked at Akenfelds in a quizzical manner.
“Sanita, there was a huge gangland presence in the city of Melbourne in Australia. They ran the trade in drugs, prostitution, weapons, protection rackets, you name it. They weren’t quite as rich and influential as the oligarchs in Latvia, but they were still very well-heeled criminals. Then, something went wrong. Somebody in their circles became a little unhappy about how the money was being carved up. Then, a gangster called Alphonse Gangitano, also known as “The Black Prince of Lygon Street” murdered a criminal called Greg Workman on 7th February, 1995. Two more murders later, Gangitano himself was murdered and a senior member of the Melbourne underworld was implicated as the killer. This launched a guerrilla war among members of the Melbourne underworld. Between 1995 and 2010, a total of 36 criminal figures were successively put in their graves in a series of payback killings. Eventually, one of the kingpins who is believed to have been responsible for at least ten of the assassinations was, himself, murdered in prison. This killing spree between the gangsters created a power vacuum in the Melbourne underworld and became popularly known as “The Melbourne Gangland Killings”. I can’t say there was anything surprising about it. It was the exact kind of thing I’d expect from a bunch of slobs. Now, I’m just curious to know when Latvia’s slobs will start gunning each other down. It would sure save the police from doing the job.”
“Well, Chris, I can only assume the oligarchs are all friends with each other. I guess that’s why they call it an oligarchy. They work as a team and negotiate with each other. By working together, they can control the Latvian Government from behind the scenes. United they stand, divided they fall!”
“I looks that way, doesn’t it?” said Akenfelds, “But even a team can be poisoned. Its members can be turned against each other. Could you imagine what would unfold between those guys, people like Valērijs Kapustins, Aivars Lipšitzs, Andris Šķiņķis, Ainārs Slapjums, Aigars Kalviņš, and Viktors Sadovskijs, if somebody found a way to make those guys work a little less harmoniously with each other. I reckon it would be like watching a New Year’s Eve fireworks show.”
And so, this conversation between the Australian and the beautiful Sanita went on, well into the evening. I got bored with the whole thing in the end. I’ve had my fill of intoxicated people talking about what needs to be done to save the universe. Besides, something a little more exciting came up. You see, the whole time Akenfelds and Sanita had been engaged in this rather energetic debate, little did either of them know that somebody sitting in the corner had been listening to every word spoken.
Delta quietly got up from his seat, paid for his bar tab, and then wandered out the door. It was 20:30 and he was going to meet with a few of his friends at the Austrālijas Krogs in the Rīga Old Town Hostel on Vaļņu iela. I had a feeling there was something that Akenfelds said that Delta was planning to mention to his brothers in arms.
I doubt that Akenfelds ended up taking Sanita home, though it would have been an excellent pick-up if he had. It would have been funny to stick around to see if he managed to steer the conversation from corruption to the matter of how beautiful she looked in that dress she was almost wearing, but the conversation that was destined to take place on Vaļņu iela was far more exciting. I won’t keep you waiting. Delta suggested to Alpha and Beta that they should frame Kapustins for the sniper attack on Lipšitzs’ home in Ventspils.
(to be continued Sunday 19th August, 2018)