President cleared of corruption

  • 2008-07-23
  • From wire reports
RIGA - The president has been cleared of long-standing accusations that he accepted "gratitude payments" 's otherwise known as bribes 's before taking office. The anti-corruption bureau found that President Valdis Zatlers did not violate the law by accepting cash gifts from patients while working as chairman of the board and surgeon at the State Trauma and Orthopedic Hospital. The scandal cast a shadow over Zatlers during his first days in office.

Opposition leaders and NGOs attacked the newly elected president for his alleged history of corruption. Former anti-corruption bureau chief Aleksejs Loskutovs said at the time that Zatlers' taking the cash payments could be considered a serious offense. "When a doctor combines his work in state and municipal health care institutions and uses all kinds of resources available at this institution, including human resources, and takes money for that, it is absolutely unacceptable," the former anti-corruption chief said in a June 2007 interview with Neatkariga Rita Avize.

The president quickly admitted to accepting the cash payments and failing to pay taxes on them. He pledged to pay back taxes on the gifts, and said he would do his best to stamp out the practice while president. Over the course of the investigation, however, the anti-corruption bureau found that the president never demanded payments for his services, either before or after performing operations.

By accepting the payments, he was not in direct violation of the law. Moreover, the investigation found that he did not accept payments while acting as chairman of the hospital's board, which would have proved a far more serious offense because of his position of power. The anti-corruption bureau interviewed 377 of Zatlers' former patients for the investigation, which began when he was nominated for president and ended with announcement of the results on July 21.