Belarus police search Latvian diplomat's apartment, level accusations of vice

  • 2006-08-02
  • By Julia Balandina

Pabriks decried the Belarusians' actions as a breach of the Vienna Convention.

RIGA - A serious diplomatic scandal ignited last week after Belarusian law enforcement officials accused a Latvian diplomat of distributing pornography after searching his Minsk apartment and confiscating personal belongings. Later, on July 30, during a report on the Latvian diplomat, Belarus state television showed video footage of two men engaged in sex, implying that the diplomat, Reimo Smits, was leading a decadent lifestyle.

However, the faces of the men were blotched out, raising doubts about their true identity. It was also unclear how the camera, which was allegedly hidden, ended up in Smits' apartment.
Belarus law enforcement leaders said a criminal probe has been opened against Smits for distribution of pornographic materials.
Smits, second secretary of the Latvian Embassy in Belarus, who had been working in Minsk since October 2002, reportedly left Belarus on July 31.

According to the Baltic News Service, a representative of the Minsk municipal police told Belarus television that the law enforcement officers who searched the Latvian diplomat's apartment were unaware that Smits was protected by diplomatic immunity.

Smits eventually produced his documents, and the officers apologized and walked away, a Belarus police representative said.
Speaking during a press conference in Minsk on July 28, Belarus Interior Minister Vladimir Naumov said, "Pornographic materials have been seized from him. A criminal probe has been opened against the employee of the Latvian Embassy for distribution of pornographic materials."
He further added, "According to the information of Belarus law enforcement authorities, the Latvian diplomat had been doing this for a long time, but authorities could not identify him."

Naumov stressed that Smits was not detained and that Smits would not have to stand trial.
"The diplomat won't stand trial in Belarus, but his actions will be evaluated according to international standards," the Belarus Interior Ministry told the Interfax news agency on July 31.
Latvia's Foreign Ministry reacted bitterly to the news. The ministry said the incident was a provocation against the Latvian state and its diplomatic corps and is a serious violation of the norms and practices of diplomatic conduct.

"It's an attack not only against the diplomat, but against our country as well. It would definitely influence the opinion of the EU and the debate on Belarus," Foreign Minister Artis Pabriks was quoted as saying after the search of the diplomat's apartment.
The sudden departure of Belarus' ambassador on July 20 from Latvia, without notification to Latvian authorities, caught many by surprise and added to the overall atmosphere of intrigue.
On Aug. 1 it was reported that Pabriks refused to agree to a meeting with the ambassador scheduled for Aug. 9.
"This is a very rude provocation, and these accusations are absurd," Ivars Pundurs, Latvia's ambassador to Turkey, told the Latvian daily Diena.

The Foreign Ministry, which opened its own investigation into the incident, found no justification for the Belarusian authorities' actions, according to the Baltic News Service.
The ministry's press service said Belarusian officials have yet to answer Latvia's official protest as to why representatives of the Belarusian special service entered and searched the Latvian diplomat's private residence in Minsk, which is regarded as a gross violation of the Vienna Convention.
"If Belarus had any grounds to consider that the Latvian diplomat had undertaken any unlawful activities, there exists a generally accepted practice under international law on how to address such issues," the ministry says. "No such steps were undertaken."

Moreover, the ministry said that a bilateral agreement on legal assistance has been concluded between Latvia and Belarus, and opportunities provided by it were not used during the course of the case involving Smits.