KNAB decries 'systematic' corruption in city council

  • 2008-02-27
  • From staff and wire reports

Juta Strike brought the anti-corruption campaign to a new level after inviting businessmen to share information with KNAB.

RIGA - Following a major bribery sting in the Riga City Council, a leading anti-corruption bureau official has said that corruption in the municipal government has become "systematic."
"Businesses, unfortunately, know whom to approach [with a bribe]. The officials are not surprised to receive bribes. Other employees of Riga City Council are undoubtedly involved… Thus the notion arises that the corruption in Riga City Council has a systemic character," KNAB deputy director Juta Strike made the allegations about the City Council during a Feb. 21 interview with Latvian public radio.
The comments came on the heels of the anti-corruption bureau's arrest of the former head of the Riga City Council city development department, Vilnis Strams, along with former department administration head Raimonds Janita.

Janita was accused of helping to mediate a bribe intended for a City Council official. He then gave police Strams' name, who was quickly arrested on the same charges.
President Valdis Zatlers weighed in on the issue during a radio interview with SWH Radio on Feb. 22, urging politicians to speak out against corruption.
"Politicians should speak more about how to combat corruption. Politicians could speak more courageously about successes. They should get rid of this shyness, and each politician should speak out loudly and clearly about corruption," Zatlers said.
The president also noted that a flurry of successful cases have helped to bring corruption down to more manageable levels in recent years.
Earlier that same day, Riga City Mayor Janis Birks indicated that there is a strong possibility that related corruption crimes will soon come to light. He made those comments after a private meeting with KNAB director Aleksejs Loskutovs.

In a similar vein to the president's urging politicians to report corruption, KNAB also urged businesses to turn to the anti-corruption bureau when they see corrupt practices.
"Businesses lack the bravery to change things, the determination to fight corruption. During informal talks or public forums they say that bribery is widespread 's but [they] very seldom provide information," Strike said.

The deputy KNAB chief said she believes businesses decline to report graft because they are afraid of endangering their enterprises. She explained that these fears were groundless, and that it is possible for businesses to remain anonymous throughout the process.
"Even if an individual remains anonymous, we are ready to listen to any information. There are enough mechanisms to keep the identity of the person providing the information secret. If businesses wish to change the corruption environment, they need to act appropriately," Strike said.
Strams was arrested on Feb. 15, based on statements Janita gave to the police. Janita accused him of passing a 65,000 euro bribe over to a City Council official during the spring of last year.
Janita confessed to receiving the money, but denied that it was ultimately meant to be passed on to City Council officials.

The bribe reportedly came from a businessman who was not arrested in connection with the case. Local media has speculated that the businessman who gave the bribe was the one that reported the incident to KNAB.
Though authorities did not find any of the alleged money on Strams, the court ruled to keep him in detention over fears that he could alter the investigation. His lawyer, Guntars Antoms, has promised to appeal the decision within a week.
In her radio interview, Strike used the incident to highlight municipal government corruption and call on officials to help crack down on the problem.
"If the corruption risks are not constantly addressed and the decisions controlled from the point of view of fighting corruption, KNAB alone is unlikely to eradicate corruption," she said.
However, the deputy KNAB head was also confident that the organization would be able to catch those who took or received bribes.

"If someone is still accepting bribes and will accept bribes, they may be sure that we will come for them… giving bribes is a crime, too. Involvement in corruption schemes may [also] result in our visit," she said.