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Friday 22.09.2017 | Name days: Maigurs, Mārica, Māris

Authority of criminally prosecuted officials planned to be limited

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Edmunds Sprudzs

Edmunds Sprudzs

The so-called Lembergs Law remains the hottest discussion topic in the Latvian parliament. This law is called to put a stop to the situation when criminals remain in their posts for years because of the slow function of Latvian courts.

The idea created by Latvia’s political culture, when criminally accused officials remain in their posts during criminal investigations into their activities, can be considered largely original in an international context, Nekā personīga (Nothing personal) programme of TV3 reports.

Dealing with the criminally accused Lembergs and other oligarchs was the objective often mentioned by Valdis Zatlers’ party in its first pre-election campaign. Since then, the influence of the oligarchs has dwindled considerably. One of Reform Party’s foremost reformists is the Environment Protection and Regional Development Minister Edmunds Sprudzs, who signed the now famous order to remove Aivars Lembergs from the post of Mayor of Ventspils last autumn. Sprudzs has now developed a bill that provides for removal of a municipal deputy who is faced with criminal charges until his guilt or innocence is proven by the law. However, lawyers call this method too harsh, especially in cases if the official has fallen victim of false libel.

“Libel and deliberately false criminal procedures can do considerable harm to an official’s reputation. That said, there have to be guarantees that would prevent the use of this mechanism in bad faith”, – notes Doctor of Law Martins Mits.

A second – softer project has been presented to the Saeima by Unity’s official Lolita Cigane. She believes that the border for the removal of a municipal official could be considered the initiation of criminal prosecution, not criminal proceedings.

“Therefore, this mandate given by society should be preserved, but the official should retain the ability to participate in the work of the city council, attend meetings, cooperate in the work of committees and other institutions to which this officials had been delegated”, – Cigane says.

Upon hearing the criticism, Sprudzs has accepted the problems and agreed that there should be a compromise. According to him, this would be more lenient towards the guilty. In its current variant it states: “If criminal proceedings are initiated against an official, the right to participate in meetings of the municipality or its committees is taken from said official on the day information is received from the Prosecutor General’s office.” During the investigation period, the official is to be paid half of his regular salary. In the event of the investigation proving his innocence, the official is to be paid the full amount of money he was not paid.

Both the organizers of the project and legislators have agreed that this initiative is not meant to be used only against Aivars Lembergs, but against municipal officials that remain in their posts while being criminally persecuted. The problem is far too big. There is no special institution that compiles information about which officials are involved in conflicts with the law. It is known, however, that there are such officials in Ogre, Liepaja, Jelgava and Jurmala.

“People that are in power should have good reputations. People need to believe they are honest. Criminal proceedings usually show that this reputation is questionable. It would be odd to have such people remain in power while being criminally prosecuted. This is fundamentally wrong”, – says the director of the Public Rights Institute Arvids Dravnieks.

Unfortunately, such situations do tend to happen. A good example is the former Mayor of Jurmala Raimonds Munkevics. Some two and a half years ago, the Corruption Prevention and Combating Bureau had Munkevics detained for taking a bribe of 5 000 LVL. The prosecutor’s office had presented charges rather quickly – two months later. Munkevics is currently being prosecuted, but he still continues to vote in Jurmala City Council along with the same colleagues who had reported his crime.

Human rights experts warn that even a regulation developed with the best of intentions is a double-edged sword because of the slow court hearings.

Sprudzs believes that the deciding factor will be the ability of the opposition to find support in the coalition and delay the bill’s approval in discussions of different commissions, so that the final reading is carried out after the upcoming municipal elections. This would allow the criminally prosecuted officials to remain in power.


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