Controversial lawyer blasts U.S. ambassador, ex-president

  • 2007-12-05
  • By Talis Saule Archdeacon
RIGA - A prominent and controversial lawyer suggested that the U.S. ambassador and a former Latvian president had put pressure on Prime Minister Aigars Kalvitis to get the government to approve a bill for compensating Jews who suffered as a result of the Holocaust during World War II.
As Andris Grutups told the Neatkariga Riga Avize in a Nov. 29 interview, "as far as I know, shortly before the resignation of Aigars Kalvitis' [previous] government, former president [Vike-Freiberga] together with U.S. ambassador Catherine Todd Bailey called the prime minister to tell him that his government should pass such a bill if Kalvitis wants to be nominated to head the government repeatedly."

As he went on to explain, the government passed the bill on its last day in office.
The statement was sensational in that it showed the United States as pressuring Latvia, a close ally, in domestic legislation.
The bill was subsequently quashed in Parliament in the days leading up to the NATO summit in Riga. A majority of lawmakers argued that not only Jews suffered during the war but other nationalities as well.
The U.S. Embassy denied putting any pressure on the government on the question of Jewish compensations and said it called for the two sides 's Latvia and the Jewish community 's to cooperate on the issue.
"The only recommendation we gave was that the government and the Jewish community work together to clarify the few remaining issues with the community cooperatively," Digne Abola, an embassy spokeswoman, said.

Grutups, who is close with People's Party founder Andris Skele, also attacked the U.S. ambassador for a recent speech in which she criticized Latvia on political transparency, ostensibly referring to the oligarchic influence of Skele and Ventspils Mayor Aivars Lembergs.
"If she criticizes other un-elected people for interfering in politics, including my friend [founder of the ruling People's Party and so-called oligarch] Andris Skele among others, she should look at herself in the first place. It turns out that nobody has elected her either," the lawyer said.
"But does anybody prevent her from getting Latvian citizenship through naturalization, running in elections and getting political power? Then she would be in a position to tell us which laws to pass and which not. But it is not right for an ambassador of a foreign country to meddle in our legislation with what I would say are blackmailing methods," he told the paper.

Former Health Minister Gundars Berzins, another People's Party member, also said in October that the ambassador had exerted pressure on Latvian officials on a number of issues, particularly before the ministry banned the sale of junk food and soft drinks in all public grade schools in 2006.
Grutups, one of Latvia's most famous lawyers, is thought by some commentators to wield considerable influence in domestic political and judicial decisions. He was recently thrown into the spotlight with the August publication of a book allegedly containing wiretapped phone conversations in which the lawyer inappropriately discussed court cases with judges and businessmen.
The high-profile lawyer has also previously been accused of harboring anti-Jewish sentiments.
Earlier this year, Grutups published a book titled "Esafots" (scaffold) about the Stalinist show trial against SS-General Friedrich Jeckeln.

Arkadijs Suharenko, head of a council of Jewish communities in Latvia, said in an interview with the Russian language daily Telegraf that Grutups' ideas and actions surrounding the book were helping to disseminate and promote anti-Semitism in Latvia.

Grutups has also published a book titled "Beylisad" in 2005 which tells the story of a 12-year-old boy who was murdered by a secret Jewish sect in early 20th century Kiev.