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GUILTY VERDICT: Indulis Emsis admitted deliberate perjury (Photo: LETA)
RIGA/TALLINN 's A series of high-profile court cases involving everyone from former prime ministers to police officers on the beat is creating a worrying picture of the Baltic States as corrupt from top to bottom.
While glitzy conferences and ad campaigns promote the region as a progressive place to do business, tawdry tales of bribe-taking, lying under oath and protection rackets undercut much of the message.
Starting from the top, the Latvian Prosecutor's General Office has ordered that former prime minister and parliamentary speaker Indulis Emsis be fined 5,040 lats (7,171 euro) for deliberate perjury.
Prosecutor Juris Juriss presented a charge to Emsis regarding false testimony he gave to police concerning the theft of a bag containing $10,000 in cash. Emsis claims he was toting the caseful of cash in order to buy a tractor.
Emsis pleaded guilty to perjury and said he regretted his actions before paying his fine. He remains linked to another high-profile corruption case involving powerful officials of the port of Ventspils, including controversial mayor Aivars Lembergs, and is understood to have answered questions during the course of the investigation.
Emsis has stepped down from his position as parliamentary speaker but remains a member of parliament with the Greens' and Farmers' Alliance.
Meanwhile to the north, and one rung down the political ladder, the governor of Estonia's Valga County was caught on Oct. 24 in the act of receiving tens of thousands of kroons, the daily Eesti Paevaleht reports.
Georg Trasanov and Kalle Muru, managing director of the GoBus company that provides public transportation services in the southern county, met before noon in the building of the county government.
The paper has information that officers of the security police caught Trasanov in the building after the meeting with the money handed over to him. The sum was between 30,000 and 40,000 kroons (1,900-2,600 euros).
The governor allegedly received similar amounts on several occasions immediately before the county government discussed coach service subsidies. The alleged bribes may amount to a six-digit figure, the daily Postimees says.
Trasanov is suspected of repeated bribe-taking, Muru of repeated bribe-giving, and chairman of GoBus supervisory board Aivo Parn and management board member Valter Keis, of aiding bribery.
Under the penal code, a conviction for taking and giving a bribe carries a prison sentence of one to five years, and repeated taking and giving a bribe, two to 10 years.
Compared to such slick operators, the actions of a trio of Riga police officers look very old-fashioned. The Riga Regional Court has sentenced the three officers to three years in jail for accepting a bribe from a cafe owner in return for not performing inspections at his cafe.
The court gave Riga Central Police Department officers Edgars Bebriss, Vjaceslavs Andrianovs and Oskars Berzins a three-year jail term each with a two-year probation. The three defendants were arrested in the courtroom.
A co-defendant, meanwhile, was sentenced to 80 hours of community work for failure to report the offense.
In April 2005, Andrianovs and Bebriss arrived at a cafe in the Old Town and explained announced that they were going to check if the music played at the cafe was licensed.
During that inspection, the policemen seized 82 CDs and a CD player without leaving any official documents recording their actions. Bebriss only left the owner of the cafe a note inviting him to the police station.
Berzins called the cafe owner and warned that he would face big trouble unless he paid the policemen 300 lats. The officer promised to return the CDs and player and not to report the matter if the money was paid, adding that a refusal would ensure regular future inspections that would likely hamper business.
The cafe owner paid the bribe, and the police officers pocketed 100 lats each.