Wiretapping scandal shakes judiciary

  • 2007-08-22
  • By Talis Saule Archdeacon

In order to force a public investigation, Lapsa both published the wiretaps and gave them to police.

RIGA- Journalist Lato Lapsa hasunveiled a series of transcriptsthat are allegedly wiretappedphone conversations amongprominent figures in Latvia'sjudiciary system from 1998 to2000.Lapsa said he received the documentsanonymously in his mailboxat the end of last year 's somethingthat occurs regularly givenhis propensity to publish anonymousmaterial 's and that he hasno clue who may have left thetranscripts.The journalist simultaneouslyreleased the transcripts to theProsecutor General's Office andpublished them in a book. Lapsaasked the prosecutors to determinethe authenticity of the tapesand check for criminal liability.The tapes primarily concernconversations between high profilelawyer Andris Grutups andhigh ranking members of thejudiciary. If they are found to beauthentic, then the tapes couldimply corruption in the politicalelite, business elite and the judiciarysystem as a whole.

Prosecutors promptly launcheda probe into the material andare set to form a special workgroupto deal with the transcripts.Moreover, the National SecurityCouncil, which includes some ofthe biggest names in Latvian politics,is due to call a special meetingto discuss the documents."The first sitting will addresscurrent issues, including thetelephone conversations, and wewill decide what to do next. Wewill get familiar with informationfrom the responsible services,"BNS reported theParliament's national securitycommittee head DzintarsJaundzeikars as saying.President Valdis Zatlers, whowill chair the council, has alreadyweighed in on the issue. In anAug. 20 radio interview, heexplained that the transcriptsraise doubts as to whether thecourts are truly independent. Henoted that while there has beensignificant judicial reform inrecent years, there are lingeringdoubts about the honesty andintegrity of the system.Prime Minister AigarsKalvitis told public radio Aug. 21that the conversations were mostprobably the result of an illegalwiretap and that someone musthave spied on the lawyer. He saidthat the publication of the dialoguescould have been done forvarious reasons, most likely political.

"This is an opportunity todestabilize the political situationin the country, to ruin trust in theprosecutor's office and justice system.Obviously somebody is interestedin such destabilization," hesaid.Earlier this year Vaira Vike-Freiberga, while president, criticizedthe judiciary for the slowpace of reform and the backlog ofcases, saying that both wereimpeding citizens' rights to a fairand speedy trial.Grutups defended the allegedphone calls in an Aug. 15 interviewwith the popular LTV broadcast"100.pants.""If I am calling a judge it doesnot mean that I am trying toachieve something illegal. I havenever ever in my life said that acase ought to be reviewed in oneor another way," the lawyer said.He went on to explain that thealleged phone calls to Court ChiefJustice Andris Gulans and formerFinance Minister GundarsBerzins were innocent in nature.
He rhetorically asked if "placinga phone call" was a crime.

Lapsa told journalists that hepublished the transcripts in orderto ensure public opinion wouldweigh in on the matter and thatthe case was thoroughly investigated.The aim of the book was "toraise enough public interest andawareness about the case, so asnot to allow our dear investigationand law enforcement institutionsto drown this case as hashappened with other cases,"Lapsa said.The journalist said that heremembers a number of cases inwhich information had been sentto the prosecutor's office, but thecase was not launched and "diednaturally." He explained thatthese cases indicate that it is notenough 's "not in this country, notat this time" 's to simply send theinformation to the prosecutor'soffice, and that public awarenessabout the case must be raised aswell.In an attempt to assuage fearsthat the journalist was using thetapes to prop up book sales, hesaid that there would only be atotal of 4,000 copies of the bookmade.

"It is not the project I want tomake money with," he said.In order to avoid possible litigation,Lapsa has slightly alteredthe names in the transcripts inthe book, titled "Tiesasanas KaKekis" and released by "BalticScreen Ltd." The main character,for example, is named "ArnisGutups."The journalist has publiclyvoiced his intention to write hisnext book about Andris Skele, formerprime minister and founderof the ruling People's Party, widelyconsidered to be one of thecountry's leading "oligarchs."