Wiretapping sparks this season's scandal

  • 2007-08-21
  • By Mike Collier

BROUGHT TO BOOK: Lapsa's revelations threaten to undermine confidence in the judiciary (Photo: LETA)

RIGA 's If you miss a political scandal in Latvia, don't worry 's like a Riga trolleybus, there'll be another one along in a minute.

With 'Jurmalagate' already forgotten, the Lembergs trial rumbling tediously in the background and interest in the President's extra-curricular payments while a doctor developing an on-again, off-again character, a new intrigue has been delivered 's literally 's to enliven the summer season.

The latest tale of dubious dealing to spark media interest involves alleged illegal wiretaps revealing off-the-record conversations between prominent lawyers and senior members of the judiciary that make the legal system look more like a cosy members' club than an impartial public institution.

The scandal broke in earnest Aug 18 when investigative journalist Lato Lapsa went public with what he claimed were transcripts and original recordings of senior judicial officials engaged in telephone conversations. Lapsa said that he often finds unsolicited leads in his mailbox, which is where he discovered the recordings some months ago.

Lapsa told TV news program Panorama that he does not know who delivered the recordings to him, but that he believes them to be genuine. Since finding them, he has been working on preparing the materials for publication in a book, 'Tiesasanas Ka Kekis' [Cookhouse Legislation], which went on sale Aug 19 and became an immediate bestseller.

The transcripts date back several years and appear to originate in the office of leading lawyer Andris Grutups. They record conversations between Grutups and various members of the judiciary suggestive of a relationship that is more collusory than would generally be considered acceptable.

Lapsa submitted the materials to the Prosecutor General's Office simultaneous with publishing them in his book, effectively forcing the hand of the authorities to conduct a public enquiry or be seen to be attempting a cover-up.

The scandal filled media reports over the weekend, gathering momentum all the time so that by Aug 21 prime minister Aigars Kalvitis in a radio interview reacted with annoyance to Lapsa's 'double whammy'.

"These conversations most probably have been wiretapped illegally, somebody must have spied on the lawyer's office. I do not have information about the reason it has been done," said Kalvitis.

"This is an opportunity to destabilize the political situation in the country, to ruin trust in prosecutor's office and justice system. Obviously somebody is interested in such destabilization."

The premier said that "such things cannot happen in a law-based state, that a person's rights are restricted, the person is not protected. The person can be wiretapped and published at any time. Not speaking about the contents, it is not a sign of a law-based country".

The Prosecutor General's Office has confired that it is set to form a special workgroup to probe the submitted recordings.