Latvian Government approves illegal decision on sacking of anti-corruption chief
Government’s refusal to serve Latvia’s interests now absolutely clear
The decision by the Cabinet of Ministers of the Republic of Latvia today to ask Parliament to sack Aleksejs Loskutovs, director of the Corruption Prevention and Combating Bureau (KNAB) is illegal. The law on the KNAB states that only the prosecutor-general has the right to suspend the director, and then only if the director faces criminal charges or has been arrested. The prosecutor-general of Latvia, Jānis Maizītis, has stated publicly that the attempt by Prime Minister Aigars Kalvītis to suspend Loskutovs was unlawful.
The prime minister established a “working group” consisting of the prosecutor-general along with three government ministers and two MPs to “evaluate” Loskutovs’ appropriateness for office. This group submitted its “report” to the Cabinet of Ministers, but that can in no way be seen as a lawful basis for any further steps. The Cabinet has unlawfully usurped the competence of the prosecutor-general to judge whether the KNAB director is appropriate for his job. The limitations which are stated in the law with respect to political interference in the bureau’s work were plainly approved with the clear aim of avoiding any attempt by politicians to settle accounts with the agency so that it could do its work properly, not least in the area of monitoring controls over political party financing.
Several government ministers were in a clear conflict of interest in the decision that was taken today. The prime minister is chairman of the People’s Party. Interior Minister Ivars Godmanis is chairman of the Latvia’s Way party and was a member of the aforementioned “working group”. Transportation Minister Ainārs Šlesers is chairman of the First Party of Latvia. These three men are personally responsible for violations of party financing laws during last year’s parliamentary campaign – violations which have already been identified by the KNAB and confirmed by the Supreme Court. It is expected that the KNAB will issue its final ruling on the overspending in the near future, and it is possible that the three parties overspent by as much as two million Latvian lats, or four million US dollars.
The Cabinet decision was a violation of the law, and there is absolutely no sense in which this decision can be based on even minimal standards of democracy and the rule of law. The prime minister only recently attended the KNAB’s fifth anniversary celebration and praised it for the work that it has done, as did the president of Latvia, Valdis Zatlers. Despite this, Kalvītis has consistently sought to damage the reputation of the agency with populist and completely unsubstantiated claims and legal attacks against the KNAB. This has been ongoing for two years. Today’s decision threatens the level of trust which the public has in the KNAB, and it is a serious attack against anti-corruption efforts in Latvia.
TI Latvia executive chairperson Roberts Putnis: “By taking this decision, the Cabinet of Ministers has seriously threatened the rule of law in Latvia. No resident of Latvia can feel safe anymore, because the Cabinet of Ministers or even a single minister apparently can order that he or she be sacked or even arrested during the light of day. There is good reason to say that this government is not serving the interests of the public, but is serving the interests of organised crime and corruption, as former President Vaira Vīķe-Freiberga made it absolutely clear when she launched this year’s referendum procedure.”
The referendum procedure was launched after the governing coalition forced amendments to national security laws through Parliament which were widely criticised by, among others, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. It signalled that if the amendments were to be upheld, Latvia might well be excluded from the circulation of confidential NATO information.
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