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De Facto: only one person was convicted of corruption in politics by KNAB in 15 years

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Baltic news, News from Latvia, BNN.LV, BNN-NEWS.COM, BNN-NEWS.RUIn the past fifteen years, Corruption Prevention and Combating Bureau completed only one political corruption case, as concluded by De Facto programme of LTV.

A prison sentence was given to once the Mayor of Jurmala Juris Hlevicskis in the so-called Jurmalgeit case. Meanwhile other major cases either remain in development or have long since ended without conclusive proof. No politicians have been put on the accused bench in criminal cases regarding significant bribes discovered in public sector procurements, the programme reports.

LTV notes that this contrasted greatly with what was reported by foreign representatives at KNAB’s organized 15th jubilee anti-corruption conference last week. The main topic at the first day of the conference was fight against political corruption.

«I like Brazil’s example very much. Of course, Brazil is a very big country. Latvia much smaller in comparison, however. As chief of KNAB, I can say that there are some similarities nonetheless. This is why there is a need for KNAB to resolve those matters,» said KNAB Chief Jēkabs Straume, commenting on Brazilian prosecutor’s presentation on the so-called Car Wach case, which is considered the largest corruption scandal in the democratic country’s history to this day.

Corruption charges in Brazil have been presented to the current and three former presidents. Multiple current and former parliament leaders are either on the accused bench or in prison already. The former governor or Rio de Janeiro, several ministers, officials and businessmen are already in prison. Charges have been presented to several hundred other people – politicians and influential businessmen. When attempts were made to change laws to make the investigation harder, people took to the streets, forcing politicians to step down, De Facto reports.

Sérgio Bruno Cabral Fernandes, prosecutor of the Brazilian Federal District, admits – an investigation on such a scale would have been impossible to conduct several years ago. «The majority of the Congress is involved in this illegal scheme. This is a very sad reality, but it is true: the majority of our politicians are corrupt. […] Such crimes were committed in the past, but I think there has been a change in Brazil’s mentality since then. We now know that a corrupt policy can be changed. We have young and idealistic professionals working in the public sector to change the country. Of course there have been several important changes made to our laws, which makes things easier for us, but I believe the most important change is the one associated with our mentality,» says the Brazilian prosecutor.

The programme also reports that it is unclear where Straume sees similarities between Latvia and Brazil. For example, accomplishments of Latvian law enforcement officers are a far cry from their Brazilian colleagues, notes De Facto, adding that in the past fifteen years KNAB has finished only one political corruption case – the so-called Jurmalgeit. The now former Mayor of Jurmala Juris Hlevicskis was put in prison as a result of this case.

Jurmalgeit 2 took place five years later. Review of this case in the court continues to this day. The sentence to a different Mayor of Jurmala – Raimonds Munkevics – has yet to come into force.

De Facto reports that KNAB also investigated cases regarding bribes worth millions in relation to procurement procedures or territory planning changes. The so-called Riga City Council bribery case has been reviewed by the court. Daimler case remains in development. The same can be said of the Latvenergo infrastructure procurement cases. However, to this day there are no high-ranking officials among the accused in those criminal cases.

For example, in the Latvenergo criminal case on TEC-2 reconstruction, which was submitted to court in January, there are twelve accused individuals, including former company president Kārlis Miķelsons, but there isn’t a single politician among them.

This is admitted by prosecutor in charge of the case Viorika Jirgena: «Aside from other incriminated crimes, three former Latvenergo officials are accused of bribery. It is already known that there isn’t a single person accused in this case who can be called a politician. I don’t deal in assumptions. No proof was found of any payments being performed to politicians. With that, I would rather not speculate on what may have been. In any case, no charges were raised because there was no proof found.»

Why didn’t KNAB, an institution formed specifically to combat high-level corruption, including political corruption, fail to accomplish much in such criminal cases? An optimistic version is that politicians in Latvia are more honest than the ones in Lithuania, which has experienced impeachment of its president after a corruption scandal, or Estonia, where Mayor of Tallinn Edgars Savisars now sits on the accused bench. The more pessimistic version is that Latvian law enforcement officers are simply too inexperienced to combat political corruption on a scale found in Brazil. De Facto journalists say.

Also LTV notes that the truth is somewhere in the middle based on what Straume said: «This Brazilian example points to a catastrophic level of collaboration among politicians and business interest groups, as well as enormous monetary exchange between the ruling power and opposition. I think the situation is not as bad in Latvia. But this other factor – the necessity to improve capabilities of relevant law enforcement institutions, including KNAB – is vital for the improvement of the situation.»

Political corruption is not limited to paying bribes to offices in exchange for a specific vote. Political capture is also a form of corruption, says OECD political analyst Jukihiko Hamada: «Political capture is a phenomenon when public policy is systematically captured or skewed as a result of unbalanced external influence. This is not limited to involvement of mega-corporations, it can be done by a small but influential group of people. It is not important who tries influencing political processes. What is important is that public interests are left unaddressed and politics are instead used to serve the interests of few.»

OECD representative reports that public decision-makers can be involved in corrupt processes indirectly, without them knowing it. Those who perform political capture can use friendly ties with legislators and manipulate them by providing false information. There is no single way to combat this phenomenon. Preventing it requires a whole spectrum of different activities, including protection of whistleblowers, regulations against lobbying activities and transparent financing of political parties and election campaigns.

De Facto reports that two criminal processes mentioned by KNAB as accomplishments in the fight against political corruption are associated with violations of political parties financing regulations. A criminal process was launched this year. KNAB has yet to reveal a thing about it. A criminal case was launched last year. As part of it, authorities detained Mayor of Jurmala Gatis Truksnis and millionaire Jūlijs Krūmiņš. A shadow of suspicion is also cast on the Union of Greens and Farmers and To Latvia from the Heart.

«Based on information available to me from the investigation, this case is planned to be completed before the end of the year and have it sent to the prosecutor’s office at the beginning of next year,» says KNAB deputy chief for combating matters Jānis Roze.

But why hasn’t KNAB made much progress with combating political corruption in the past fifteen years? Straume refuses to comment on this because he has only recently become chief of KNAB. He is more open in regards to his vision for the future of KNAB: «It should serve as a watchdog. There has to be an institution whose independence is clear and unquestionable, one that would not be pulled into political fights and one that is not financially influenced by different budget talks. […]» he said.

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