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Cablegate: President Promulgates Controversial Amendments to Conflict

VZCZCXRO3296
PP RUEHAG RUEHAST RUEHDA RUEHDBU RUEHDF RUEHFL RUEHIK RUEHKW RUEHLA
RUEHLN RUEHLZ RUEHPOD RUEHROV RUEHSR RUEHVK RUEHYG
DE RUEHRA #0476 1731452
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 221452Z JUN 07
FM AMEMBASSY RIGA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 4129
INFO RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE

UNCLAS RIGA 000476

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV LG
SUBJECT: President promulgates controversial amendments to Conflict
of Interest Law


1. Summary: On June 18, outgoing President Vaira Vike-Freiberga
(whose term in office expires July 7) announced that she will
promulgate controversial amendments to the "Law on Preventing
Conflict of Interests among Public Officials," which were adopted by
the Parliament on June 7. The amendments were adopted by unanimous
vote; however, NGOs identified a number of controversial elements
and called on the President to return the bill to the Saeima, but
she declined. Although the anti-corruption bureau approved of the
laws, corruption watchdogs and some law enforcement officials say
the amendments amount to the effective "legislation of corruption."
End summary.
2. On June 7, the Saeima unanimously passed amendments to the Law on
Preventing Conflict of Interests among Public Officials initiated by
the Anti-Corruption Office (KNAB). The KNAB initiated the
amendments based on the argument that the current restrictions are
"not proportional to possible merits brought by the implementation
of these provisions." Interestingly, even the opposition party New
Era (JL), which claims to have the fight against corruption at the
top of its party's priorities, supports the amendments stating that
the arguments of the KNAB outweighed NGO criticism.
3. The bill initiated by the KNAB included a number of amendments
(including giving rights to members of the Saeima, municipal
councils and ministers to decide on their remuneration, and the
ability to vote for their own nomination to posts) which received
sharp criticism from anti-corruption experts. However, the heaviest
criticism was directed at a provision which removed any limit to the
value of gifts given to public officials after office hours.
According to the key corruption watch-dog in the NGO sector,
Providus, under the amendments officials will be able to accept
gifts of unlimited value. Providus also stressed that the
amendments do not foresee any control mechanisms to verify whether
those gifts are linked to a person's interest in specific decisions
taken by the public official.
4. The KNAB refuted accusations that the proposed amendments would
ease the possibility to bribe public officials, and stressed that
the amendments do not remove criminal liabilities for accepting
bribes or "trading with influences". The Chief of the KNAB, Andrejs
Loskutovs, commented that the amendments correspond to Latvia's
existing situation.
5. Due to public debate on the amendments, the President's
Chancellery called a meeting of experts, including KNAB and Providus
representatives. After having heard all arguments, the President
decided to promulgate the law and provided the following arguments
in support of her decision: 1) the amendments provide room for
public officials to accept awards and gifts for their achievements
in the fields of sport and creative arts (parliament includes a
competitive weightlifter, active composer, and poet, for example);
and 2) the amendments preserve a provision which prohibits any state
official from having certain relations with a person who has given a
gift within two years. The President also added that the main focus
should be on improving control "over state officials' income rather
than imposing restrictions which are difficult to implement in
practice." She advised strengthening the capacity of the KNAB and
the adoption of other laws related to controlling sources of income
for state officials.

6. Comment. The President's decision to promulgate the law, which
does not follow the common European practice of setting limits on
the value of gifts for state officials, should be viewed in the
light of recent events. Chiefly, in the last months of her term of
office, President Vike-Freiberga has been rather critical about the
work of the Parliament and the government (most significantly,
having used her Constitutional powers to call a referendum to revoke
controversial amendments to the Criminal Law passed by the
Parliament. See reftel), and one more reprimand could result in the
open dissatisfaction of the government towards her presidency.
Additionally, the amendments to the Law on Preventing Conflict of
Interests among Public Officials have been criticized mainly by
NGOs, and not been the subject of broad public or institutional
criticism. Whether the adoption of these controversial amendments
will really foster corruption in Latvia will depends on the possible
adoption of other legal norms mentioned by the President and on the
ability of the KNAB to monitor the connections between public
officials and gift donors. Despite the comments of Loskutovs in
support of the legislation, several KNAB officers have confided in
PolOff that what was originally proposed by the KNAB on this subject
was significantly different from what ended up passing in the
Parliament, though they would not elaborate. Others in the general
law enforcement community, to include the Prosecutor General's
office, have bluntly stated to PolOff that they believe this is
legalized corruption. Implementation will be key to seeing how this
develops.

Bailey

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