RIGA - The head of the Riga City Council development department has been arrested on charges of bribery as part of a widening crackdown on graft among Riga bureaucrats.
Agents from the anti-corruption bureau, KNAB, led Peteris Strancis out of his office in handcuffs on March 27 just after Riga City Mayor Janis Birks dismissed the official from his post.
A court ruled the following day that Strancis should be kept in detention.
Strancis' lawyer, Saulvedis Varpins, told journalists that the defendant was surprised at the arrest and would plead "not guilty" to the charges of bribery.
Varpins would not comment on the size of the alleged bribe or whether the case was connected to the arrest of his predecessor earlier this year. The lawyer said the arrest was probably made as a gesture to calm public fears over corruption.
Strancis' arrest is part of an ongoing KNAB investigation into corruption in the Riga City Council. Recently a ranking KNAB investigator, Juta Strike, said the council was rife with graft.
Birks told journalists that he was also surprised by the allegations and that he had not suspected the department head of any wrongdoing.
Though the mayor said he had been in touch with KNAB over the corruption investigations, he did not have information about the details of the charges.
The incident prompted President Valdis Zatlers to weigh in and call on the City Council to address its internal problems linked with corruption.
"Quite often the weak points that make corruption possible can be easily dealt with by improving management and the circulation of documents, and these things can be corrected," the president said in a March 31 interview with public radio.
Zatlers also said KNAB had already come up with measures to help stymie the problem.
Two of Strancis' predecessors, Raimonds Janita and Vilnis Strams, were arrested in February on suspicions that they had helped mediate bribes. Janita was later released due to health problems, but Strams is still in jail.
Janita allegedly attempted to pass over 65,000 euros to Riga City Council officials in connection with NCC Spilve Development's plans to build a residential complex in Riga's suburbs. Part of the money was found on him.
Janita confessed to receiving the money but maintains that it was not meant for City Council officials.
Strams, who is also accused of mediating a bribe, was arrested based on Janita's testimony. Strams' lawyer denies all charges.
An unnamed Estonian citizen is also a suspect in the case.
KNAB will continue to look into the other members of the city council 's and into possible wrongdoing surrounding other major construction projects 's during the pre-trial investigation.
Gvido Princis, Riga's deputy director of city planning, will temporarily take up the post.
Birks said if Strancis was absolved of the charges he would be able to return to office.