First scandal of the year arrives

  • 2008-01-09
  • In cooperation with BNS

CITIZENSHIP FOR SALE: Old-style passports are alleged to have been issued fraudulently (Photo: OCMA)

RIGA 's Just days after taking power and promising to raise standards ofpublic administration, Latvia's new government is attempting to downplay thesignificance of an alleged passport-buying scandal.

Latvian police are believed to be investigating nine individuals, includingpublic officials, of forging documents required for the issue of Latvian passports. The suspects are believed to have createdthe forgeries in order to issue passports to individuals who had no legal rightto them, in exchange for cash payments.

Two suspects have been arrested, while others are imposed otherrestrictions. The police do not reveal any other details, promising to informabout the case later.

One of the suspects is reported to be Olita Magone, head of the secretariatof the special assignments minister on electronic affairs, who has resignedfrom her post. Magone earlier was the director of the residents' registerdepartment of the Interior Ministry's Board for Citizenship and MigrationAffairs (PMLP).

Police said that about 100 documents had been issued illegally.

Responding to the new evidence of corruption in public administration, new InteriorMinister Mareks Seglins said he did not believe it was necessary to initiate adisciplinary case against Vilnis Jekabsons, head of the PMLP.

However, he did say that he expected "actions worthy of a leader"from Jekabsons.

The PMLP head indicated that the passportsthat triggered the controversy were issued legally, but that the data that wereentered into the Residents' Register had been taken from fake forms.

Jekabsons also said that such illegalities were now impossible since theintroduction of EU-standard passports. "The security system of these passports has been tripled, and such manipulations areimpossible," Jekabsons claimed.

Latvian Prime Minister Ivars Godmanisdismissed suggestions that the passport buying scandal could have hamper negotiationswith the U.S. on lifting visa requirements for Latvian travelers.

In an interview with 900 Secundes TV program, the premier said the uncoveringof the racket showed that authorities are capable of "detecting suchprocesses."

"It shows that the system is capable of self-regulation, and that isgood," the prime minister said.