Intelligentsia rallies around general prosecutor

  • 2005-02-23
  • By Aaron Eglitis
RIGA - Accusations and rumors targeted at Janis Maizitis apparently backfired over the past week, as a broad spectrum of support for the general prosecutor materialized among politicians and the intelligentsia, possibly setting the stage for an early re-election.

A continuous string of stories by the daily newspaper Neatkariga Rita Avize accusing Maizitis of ethical violations have widely missed their mark, as the president, top government officials and intellectual figures rallied around the law enforcement officer.

Last week 32 members of the intelligentsia signed an open letter in support of Maizitis, saying they were concerned about the current government's seemingly tepid relations with the general prosecutor. "The current coalition's support for Janis Maizitis is evasively reserved. This decreases society's belief in the justice of our state," the letter said. "The General Prosecutor's re-election before municipal elections would be the safest way for the ruling coalition to show its true intentions," they added.

Supreme Court chief Andris Gulans made a gesture of support by agreeing to move up Maizitis' re-election by two months to March 10, just two days before municipal elections. By law, the general prosecutor is elected by Parliament.

The appointment is crucial for Latvia since Maizitis has pursued allegations of corruption and gone to the trouble of investigating the origins of several offshore companies that, as is widely believed, have their ultimate origins in major Latvian enterprises and public officials. What's more, Latvia has been criticized by its allies for being soft on things such as money laundering, and many believe Maizitis is capable of waging the battle.

Still, Prime Minister Aigars Kalvitis has been reticent about Maizitis' future as the top prosecutor, saying that, in part, he shared some blame in the lack of prosecution of money launders.

"When the government criticizes prosecutors, we have in mind special prosecutors' institutions that were created to dig up things such as money laundering transactions, and this work is unsatisfactory," Kalvitis told The Baltic Times.

The prime minister also declined to comment on the flood of stories printed by Neatkariga, a paper controlled by Ventspils business interests, against Maizitis. "We don't comment on journalists' incriminations against anyone 's it's politically sensitive," he said.

Yet it was exactly this kind of sentiment that has alarmed Maizitis' supporters.

"Everyone knows exactly what is going on. Maizitis is getting too close to the oligarchs, where for the first time they were getting uncomfortable," commented Atis Lejins, director of the Latvian Institute of Foreign Policy, and one of the signatories of the letter. "We had to stop this sliding process before the local elections."

Latvia's First Party and New Era earlier on said they would support Maizitis' re-election. Now all coalition parties, holding 70 votes, have said they would vote in favor.

The timing of the vote will likely ensure that Maizitis is re-elected for another five years, and parties may be wary of voting against, if it could hurt their electoral success. The vote, however, will be a closed one, adding a degree of unpredictability to the outcome. Maizitis' current term is due to run out in May.

Maizitis stated that he had been previously warned of continuing his investigations into certain cases, as his integrity would come under public attack. Many wondered exactly who was blackmailing the state's top prosecutor, and Prime Minister Kalvitis immediately came out and said the information should be made public.

Neatkariga has slammed the General Prosecutor's Office for sharing information with former U.S. Ambassador Brian Carlson on a case against Balodis Printing, a local company that was accused of defrauding its parent company, Proctor & Gamble, of over $100,000.

Neatkariga is closely tied to the so-called Ventspils media, which is widely believed to be an arm of Mayor Aivars Lembergs. A legal assistance request to Swiss authorities last year by Maizitis' office drew an angry response from Lembergs. Several Ventspils organizations are ensconced behind a shield of shell companies, many of which are domiciled in Switzerland, leaving the true owners obscured.