RIGA - Justice Minister Gaidis Berzins and Supreme Court Chairman Andris Gulans announced Aug. 27 that they would hold a conference to give judges a chance to voice their opinion on the wiretapping scandal that has dominated the Latvian media the past two weeks and cast an enormous shadow of doubt over the integrity of the country's legal system. The conference is scheduled for early November.
The wiretapping scandal exploded in mid-August after journalist Lato Lapsa released a series of transcripts he received anonymously of alleged conversations between high-profile lawyer Andris Grutups and judiciary, business and political elite.
The transcripts, if found to be authentic, would prove serious corruption in the judiciary despite the fact that the conversations took place nearly a decade ago.
Lapsa simultaneously released the transcripts to law enforcement officials and published them in a book titled "Tiesasanas Ka Kekis" (Litigation in the Kitchen), in a seemingly successful attempt to throw a spotlight on the case and force government action.
Berzins and Gulans agreed that the conference was necessary in order to give the public a chance to hear judges' opinions about the allegations in the book, the minister told journalists after the two met.
The decision is a change-of-heart for Berzins, who previously said that a meeting between judges would be relatively pointless before the probe into the case was completed.
The two officials agreed to set up a taskforce in order to prepare the conference's agenda.
Gulans has called on judges to evaluate their actions and make the "appropriate decision," a hint that honorable judges implicated in the scandal should resign.
The two officials also agreed to form an ethics committee that would evaluate the actions of judges. Berzins explained that there is currently no committee or institution set up to look into this sort of case.
Later the same day the Prosecutor General's Office requested information from the Riga Regional Court about civil suits reviewed between November 1, 1998 and April 1, 2000 by seven judges whose names possibly correspond to those mentioned in the book.
On Aug. 24 Prosecutor General Janis Maizitis told the Latvian State Television show "100.pants" (100th article) that it seems plausible that the transcripts could be authentic and that the case needs to be investigated.
Maizitis explained that the investigation could run into difficulties due to the fact that the conversations took place many years ago and that the wiretapping was done illegally.
"We are doing everything possible we can," he said, "I certainly do not regard this case as entirely hopeless."
Maizitis said that there are two main issues that need to be considered regarding the transcripts: possible corruption in the judiciary and the act of illegal wiretapping itself. He noted, however, that it is too early to draw any conclusions due to the massive amount of material that needs to be reviewed.
In the days following the dramatic unveiling of the transcripts, President Valdis Zatlers announced that the situation should be considered an opportunity to explain the inner workings of the Latvian justice system, which is widely seen as ineffective and corrupt.
"If such a situation has occurred, it has to be made use of... to show what the court is like today," the head of state said during his meeting with Supreme Court judges on Aug. 21.
President Zalters also said that in many cases the public has a right to know "whether the court is independent, whether the court is fair and whether [cases ever] step out of the court room." He advised setting up a system in which judges and lawyers can publicly discuss laws without revealing the contents of ongoing cases.
Former President Vaira Vike-Freiberga has said that she is not surprised by the revelation of corruption in the judicial system, and that she received numerous reports on the progress of specific cases during her presidency. She also said that she does not plan on reading the book, as she is not "interested in the 10-year-old conversations of anonymous gentlemen."