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Monday 21.05.2018 | Name days: Ingmārs, Ernestīne, Akvelīna

Former Unity member on hypocrisy, misleading voters and political show

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Baltic news, News from Latvia, BNN.LV, BNN-NEWS.COM, BNN-NEWS.RUThe majority of Saeima’s members likely did not want Inguna Sudraba to be dismissed as the head of the parliament’s investigative committee – it was all a show and a political game. Unity and the National Alliance proposed this, but they were the ones who, in the end, gave her the four decisive votes that allowed her to remain in this post, BNN was told by former Unity board and deputy chairman and current board member in Latvian Association of Regions and chairman of political organization Society for Centrist Policy Edvards Smiltēns.

He was the one who proposed amending Saeima’s internal order to publish the names of deputies who did not register for votes. This proposal was meant to improve society’s options of tracking behaviour of members of the parliament during decision-making votes.

The politician admits that it was the vote for Sudraba’s dismissal that motivated him to come up with this proposal. «Everything was mathematically calculated for authors of the proposal: Union of Greens and Farmers and Harmony would vote to keep Sudraba in her post. LAR, on the other hand, came with the announcement that the entire party would vote in favour of kicking her out. This was likely the factor that jumbled up estimates, forcing several National Alliance members to leave the room to avoid taking part in the vote,» said Smiltēns. This vote was repeated after one week. This time, however, it was Unity that played the decisive part.

It should be noted that the vote regarding Sudraba’s dismissal demonstrates that not all Saeima members who registered for the vote ended up participating in it. 93 deputies had participated in the vote to dismiss Ringolds Balodis from the National Security Committee, whereas the number of deputies who participated in the vote to dismiss Sudraba was only 87. Where did the rest disappear to?

UGF and Harmony believe Sudraba should remain in her post. Smiltēns disagrees with it. Still, he does admit that at least parties have shown their position on the matter by showing up to the vote. «How did members of other parties act? The vote, it seems, revealed this political theatre. It is clear that several deputies had simply pulled their voting cards out and had abstained from the vote, giving golden votes to this decision and changing the balance of votes.»

Smiltēns mentioned that, according to him, the coalition’s goal with this vote was intentionally making sure Sudraba remains in her post. And it was also necessary to show to society some semblance of a fight against oligarchs.

The politician mentioned again that the vote was merely symbolic. He added that the work performed by the committee in question was of poor quality.

BNN asked Smiltēns about his experience working with Mārtiņš Šics, who is a member of LAR and the parliamentary investigative committee who supported Sudraba’s decisions on multiple occasions, voted in favour of approval of the final report, and is considered an associate of Aivars Lembergs.

«I have consequently opposed Inguna Sudraba’s approval in this committee. I made it clear that her remainder in this committee would impede realization of established goals. I have discussed this matter with Mr. Šics. Let’s say I can disagree with his opinion but still respect it. He is not happy with having been delegated to this committee, because he is a doctor by trade, whereas all the matters discussed by the committee are of legal nature and are related to a criminal process. I would have preferred watching him resolve matters associated with healthcare. He mentioned that the investigative committee should be managed by an opposition representative, because it is a clear tool for the opposition. Because of that, he decided to not support a representative from Harmony. There are a number of arguments against viewing this situation as black and white. Still, it is worth mentioning that members of the committee had the right to voice their opinions in the final report, which Mr. Šics has done. Unfortunately, his comment remained publicly ignored. Šics voted in favour of dismissing Sudraba from the investigative committee. He also submitted to the Saeima a legislative draft on the publishing of all materials detailing Ridzene talks and the criminal process associated with them.»

When asked how Šics ended up in the committee in the first place, Smiltēns mentioned that, at the time, LAR was not part of the discussion, and only members of the party and Šics personally. «I joined LAR with my political organization SCP only in October 2017, whereas the committee itself was formed in July,» said Smiltēns.

He also notes that Šics did not like the way Andrejs Judins approached his work. According to him, Judins tried using this topic in his political interests. Šics mentioned Judins’ refusal to sign the dismissal request for Agriculture Minister Jānis Dūklavs was the decisive factor for mutual trust. LAR intended to submit this request shortly after publication of Ridzene talks. Only one signature was missing to pull through.

It should be mentioned that in previous interviews with BNN, Judins mentioned that the work style of the parliamentary investigative committee could be different. «Effort could be put into ensuring mutual information exchange,» said Judins. Judins had previously mentioned his confusion over Šics’ change of opinion and decision to support Sudraba as the head of the committee.

After the approval of the final report of the investigative committee, Judins said: «The final report is of poor quality. It is not just about errors but the content as well. The report provides no answers to questions asked in the committee. Matters associated with state capture were never discussed in detail. The matter regarding the quality of the criminal process was only touched upon. Basically, according to Sudraba, investigators are to blame for everything. I would like to use my right and provide some thoughts on this. I am sad that I can only discuss this after the meeting was closed, because it seemed to me that Sudraba was not the least bit interested in any of the aforementioned matters.»

The final report of the committee was supported by four deputies – Inguna Sudraba, Ainārs Mežulis, Igors Pimenovs and Mārtiņš Šics.

According to Smiltēns, the committee could not afford anyone being put in prison. What the committee could, however, was make sure Ridzene talks were published in full. The people should know their ‘heroes’, said the deputy.

He mentioned that every member of the committee had a chance to listen to full versions of recordings. They also had the right to make conclusions and submit offers if any improvements are needed.

Smiltēns agrees that the oligarchs case was not sufficiently investigated by the Corruption Prevention and Combating Bureau, «because there are too many episodes in which criminal acts were discovered but not investigated sufficiently.»

According to him, the only thing left to do with this ‘disaster’ is handing it over to society for public evaluation. «This is what’s called political responsibility. True intentions of people mentioned in oligarch talks will be highlighted and society will be able to make conclusions.»

«These things need to be highlighted. The same with votes in the Saeima. They have to be open, because that’s how democracy works. I think we have yet to use democratic advantages to their full potential,» he continues.

If there is democracy in Latvia, why are people associated with Aivars Lembergs, one of the key figures in Oligarchs case, allowed in the investigative committee?

The majority of the Saeima control the votes that, possibly, ensure influence for Lembergs and other influential people, Smiltens says.

As a lawyer, Smiltens says the amount of money and resources in the hands of very influential people in Latvia allows them to hire an army of legal advisors. «This is not about just one lawyer working on Lembergs’ criminal process. I have heard there are entire law firms on it.»

He also adds that sooner or later a sentence will come, regardless of how long Lembergs impedes the viewing. «As a politician, I refrain from predicting the possible ruling the court could give, because that would be exacting political pressure on a court of law. But I hope the ruling will be fair and respectful of public interests.»

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