RIGA - The anti-corruption bureau detained two Riga City Council employees for allegedly accepting bribes of 12,600 lats (18,300 euros) and released a third private individual.
The Bureau for the Control and Prevention of Corruption made its move shortly after Transport Minister Ainars Slesers accused the corruption watchdog of tapping his phone calls and distributing the information to the media. Prime Minister Aigars Kalvitis appeared to support the claim in a later interview.
Laila Spalina, a spokeswoman for Riga Mayor Aivars Aksenoks, told the Baltic News Agency that Janis Plotnieks, head of the city council's property department transfer board, had been detained by the bureau.
Members of the City Council's property and traffic committees were also involved: one has been detained while the other has reportedly been released and is considered a suspect.
"[The move] was not related to requests by the city council to launch any probe, it was solely our own initiative," anti-corruption chief Aleksejs Loskutovs said.
The bust could not have come at a better time for the corruption watchdog, recently accused of having political allegiances.
After Slesers made televised accusations against the bureau, Loskutovs responded by saying the transport minister was trying to cast a shadow over law enforcement's work. The anti-corruption chief also said that politicians tried to show the bureau its place by delaying legislation on pension and social security for employees.
According to media reports, Plotnieks' income declaration last year was equal to nearly half a million lats in cash, while his salary for the previous year ran to nearly 22,000 lats, with a bonus of 1,200 lats. Plotnieks owns an apartment in Riga and land in the countryside.
Plotnieks took over the job in 2001 - a time when privatization was coming to a close. According to the daily Diena, the Riga City Council was receiving around 20 requests a day to privatize or sell.
Meanwhile, Loskutovs praised the performance of the bureau's personnel, but declined to comment on the case