A former leader of Latvia's Jewish Community dropped out of the running to be the country's next foreign minister amid accusations that he had connections to the secret police during the Soviet era.
Grigorijs Krupnikovs, a member of the center-right New Era party that won this month's general election, said he had withdrawn himself from consideration for the post in the interest of preserving Latvia's reputation.
But he strongly denied he had spied for the KGB.
"This is nonsense, it's non-professional nonsense," he told The Baltic Times. "I would pay dearly to know just what and just who is behind this."
New Era leader and prime minister hopeful Einars Repse named Krupnikovs as the party's candidate for foreign minister after it won 26 of Parliament's 100 seats Oct. 5. Krupnikovs was not a candidate for Parliament.
The party has struck a preliminary agreement with Latvia's First Party, the Union of Greens and Farmers, and For Fatherland and Freedom to form a government that controls 55 seats.
Krupnikovs said the accusations stemmed from his activity as an electronics engineer during the Soviet era. After attending scientific conferences in other Soviet republics, he said he and colleagues were required to write reports upon their return to Latvia.
"To be honest, we knew one way or another these eventually found their way to KGB desks," he said. "But I never wrote reports about colleagues. I never wrote that so-and-so cracked an anti-Soviet joke or lent me a copy of Solzhenitsyn last night."
Leaders from the center-right People's Party, which was not invited to join the Repse-led coalition, were the first to say they had reason to believe he had compromised himself during the Soviet era.
"We had serious doubts about his political activities during Soviet times, and we felt we had to speak publicly about it," said party spokesman Martins Vanags.
He was also accused of financial impropriety in connection with his Riga-based transport firm, a charge he denied.
Krupnikovs called it part of a smear campaign that has even deeper roots, accusing politicians in Russia of planting stories about his alleged KGB ties in Moscow tabloids. He said he could be a target because of his strong pro-NATO views and his ethnicity.
"If Latvia has a Jewish foreign minister, it makes it harder for others to tar the country as anti-Semitic," he said.
Krupnikovs would have been Latvia's first Jewish Cabinet member since the break from Soviet rule in 1991.
Latvia has come under fire in the past from Jewish groups, Russia and the West for being slow on prosecuting alleged Nazi collaborators.
Latvia's Center for Documentation of Totalitarian Crimes maintains a partial data base of those who worked with the KGB or were under KGB surveillance, but director Indulis Zalite said it was off-limits to politicians.
Information about alleged KGB links often comes from former officers still living in Latvia who share or sell it for political purposes, he said.
Peteris Vinkelis, an adviser to New Era leader Repse, said Krupnikovs' past came as a surprise to the party.
"Mr. Repse learned about this the same day Mr. Krupnikovs asked the documentation center to provide him with information," he said.
While backing Krupnikovs' decision to drop out of the running for foreign minister, Vinkelis said he would remain an integral member of the party board. "We have not changed our opinion about his qualities and his commitment to Latvia."
He even suggested the party might ask Krupnikovs to reconsider if it did not agree on an alternate candidate.
"We're considering all options," he said. "The list of options includes Mr. Krupnikovs."
Krupnikovs served until this year as co-chairman of Latvia's 11,000-strong Jewish Community and was a founding member of the Latvian Atlantic Treaty Organization, a pro-NATO advocacy group.
Vinkelis said the incident had not weakened the resolve of the four parties to form a government.