In the latest blow to Latvia's president-elect Valdis Zatlers, the head of the country's anti-corruption bureau (KNAB) has said patients' extra payments to their doctors cannot be considered "gratitude" and that the term could rather be applied to such gifts as flowers or a child's drawing.
The issue of extra payments to doctors became controversial after Zatlers admitted to taking extra payments in "envelopes" from his patients. Zatlers pointed out though that he had never demanded money from his patients. He admitted, however, that he failed to pay income tax on the payments.
In an interview to Latvia's Neatkariga Rita Avize (NRA) daily, KNAB head Aleksandrs Loskutovs said gratitude that is expressed by paying hundreds of lats cannot be called gratitude.
"Gratitude would be a bunch of flowers or a cured child's drawing," the anti-corruption chief said.
If a doctor is a high-class professional whose patients are ready to pay for his services, he can set up a private practice and pay taxes from his income, Loskutovs said.
"But when a doctor combines his work in state and municipal health care institutions and uses all kinds of resources available at this institution, including human resources, and takes money for that, it is absolutely unacceptable," Loskutovs said.
The Latvian State Revenue Service has urged Zatlers to declare his illegitimate income for the last three years and pay the due taxes.
KNAB, meanwhile, has started an inquiry to check whether Zatlers has violated the law by accepting the extra money.
The anti-corruption chief did not specify how long it would take to complete the inquiry. He said that although KNAB officers are set to work quickly, such probes can be time-consuming, as it is necessary to collect data from work places and the State Revenue Service.