RIGA - Latvia's First Party/Latvia's Way, a member of the ruling coalition, was forced to pay a penalty fine of nearly 3,000 lats (4,269 euros) for illegal campaign donations in 2005 in a dramatic, one-day confrontation between the party and the country's anti-corruption bureau.
A failure to pay the overdue fine had prompted KNAB, the anti-corruption bureau, to request that a Riga court suspend the party's activities. The court accepted the case on Dec. 14, triggering a major media blitz given that prime minister candidate Ivars Godmanis is one of the co-chairs of the party.
"We submitted the application to the court to decide on this proposing that their [LPP/LC's] operations are suspended. If LPP/LC will pay back the illegal donations, then we will send a message to the court recalling this request," KNAB officials said.
The LPP/LC press department said that the fines were paid into the state budget on the evening on Dec. 17.
Still, by the time The Baltic Times went to press, KNAB had not yet recalled the request to have the party suspended.
The controversy surrounding LPP/LC fundraising came less than two months after KNAB released a series of heavy fines to five different parties over illegal campaign contributions in 2006. That report found that, among others, the ruling People's Party overspent by more than 500,000 lats on its 2006 election campaign.
The threat of stiff penalties against the People's Party is believed to be the main reason why outgoing Prime Minister Aigars Kalvitis, a People's Party member, suddenly fired KNAB boss Aleksejs Loskutovs in September. The decision sparked mass demonstrations and eventually led to Kalvitis' downfall.
KNAB officially issued LPP/LC the fine on July 12, 2007, requesting that the party pay the amount in full by Aug. 14. When the party failed to do so, KNAB sent a warning letter on Oct. 15 saying that if the fine was not paid by Nov. 22, the organization would turn to the courts.
"After that date, the bureau sent the notice to the courts asking to stop the activity of the party," the KNAB press office said. The anti-corruption bureau was forced to take such extreme action by the party's failure to either pay the fine or appeal the decision, the press office said.
At the request of KNAB, the court has suspended activities of parties 14 times, and seven parties have been liquidated.