United States questions anti-corruption efforts

  • 2002-02-28
  • Nick Coleman
RIGA - Latvia's commitment to crackdown on corruption was questioned by the U.S. ambassador after a top anti-corruption officer resisted a call by the prime minister to stand down over suspicious property purchases.

"The jury is still out on whether Latvia has the political will to see that these reforms are meaningful and comprehensive," U.S. Ambassador to Latvia Brian Carlson said at a conference at Riga's Graduate School of Law, attended by the country's justice minister, Ingrida Labucka.

Carlson's statement came as the chief of Latvia's economic crimes police Viesturs Briedis continued to resist demands by Prime Minister Andris Berzins that he resign pending investigation of a number of prime real estate purchases by his wife, Natalija.

"Briedis has not stood down, and we are still waiting for a declaration of his income tax payments from the State Revenue Service," police spokesman Krists Leiskalns said.

Carlson said a spate of recent arrests of officials suspected of corruption were a good sign but had not allayed concerns.

In recent months Latvia has seen several high-profile murders including that of a senior judge handling corruption cases and a senior tax official.

Proposals for a new anti-corruption bureau currently before Parliament and due to start work in May "lack teeth," said Carlson.

His statement follows recent signals from NATO and the European Union that the Latvian government must act swiftly to clamp down on corruption if it wants its bids to join the Western institutions to succeed.

Concerns about corruption feature prominently in the latest EU report on Latvia's readiness to join, which it hopes to do by 2004.

When evaluating Latvia's NATO membership bid this November, efforts to reduce corruption will be an important criteria, NATO Secretary General George Robertson told Latvian lawmakers during a visit to Riga last week.

"The quality of the legal system and the robustness of anti-corruption measures are of enormous importance to NATO countries and to your application," Robertson said.