Latvia is gradually improving its score in the corruption perception index. According to the international anti-corruption organization Transparency International, Latvia took 44th place in the corruption perception index in 2016, with 57 out of 100 points – after scoring 55 in both 2015 and 2014 (it scored 53 points in 2013 and 49 in 2012). This represents Latvia’s best score so far, and it appears to be a sign that tolerance of corruption in our country is continuing to decrease. By contrast, Lithuania fell from 34th place in 2015 to 38th place in 2016 (with 59 points in 2016, compared to 61 in 2015), and Estonia moved up to 22nd in 2016 from 23rd the year before, though it had the same 70-point score both years.
Research on attitudes towards corruption in Latvia performed by the SKDS research center in October 2016 revealed that the number of respondents who admitted that, within the last two years they had made unofficial payments, given gifts, or used private connections when sorting out issues or problems decreased by 18% since 2015. The number of respondents who would be ready to report on cases of corruption increased by 10% as well. The readiness of respondents to inform the Corruption Prevention and Combatting Bureau of Latvia (KNAB) of known crimes, such as – for example – when a bribe is required or an official exceeds his/her commission increased by 2%.
Despite its progress, there is still a lot of work to be done in order for Latvia to catch up with Lithuania and reach the level of Estonia.
International corporations with subsidiaries, clients, and/or intermediaries in Latvia have also had a huge impact on the prevention of corruption in Latvia by educating their staff and co-operation partners and requiring them to commit to internal anti-bribery policy & compliance guidelines, as well as the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and/or the UK Anti-Money Laundering Act, as a precondition for commencement of business.
The most recent cases prosecuted by the KNAB or commenced by the prosecutor general at the KNAB’s instruction were related to the disclosure of confidential information and corruptive behaviour by the chairperson of the regional court, the malicious misuse of official position with greedy intent, the carrying out, organization, and support of large scale embezzlement, the requesting and receiving of a bribe, trading with influence, embezzlement of a bribe, extortion of a bribe, and so on.
In the first of these, the chairperson of the regional court allegedly disclosed non-state secret confidential information to a representative of the media. In that same case, a private person allegedly offered a bribe to the chairperson of the regional court to take certain actions favorable to that private person in relation to the adjudication of a civil case.
In another case, employees of the municipal company AS Rigas Centraltirgus (Riga Central Market) allegedly carried out illegal actions. The chairman of the management board of the capital company owned by the Riga City Council organized a large-scale embezzlement, an employee of that capital company (a state official) supported that embezzlement, and three employees misappropriated the financial resources of that company in a large scale by handing them over to the management.
There was a case in which a private person allegedly accepted a material benefit from a company in return for using his social position to illegally influence an official of the Jurmala City Council to conclude a transaction with SIA Jurmalas Siltums (Jurmala Heating).
There was also a case concerning the alleged extortion of a large-scale bribe for the commissioning of a construction project and for forgery of documents at the construction site.
In one case, a person claiming a close relationship with the officials of the Road Traffic Safety Directorate encouraged another person to provide a bribe that the first person could then pass on to the officials of the Directorate and the State Police to cancel a prohibition of a driver’s licence.
Currently, a case has been submitted for prosecution involving a state official who allegedly requested and received a bribe in return for his promise not to prohibit the renovation of a living wagon in a biosphere reservation.
The aforementioned cases reflect anti-corruption related issues topical in Latvia in 2017. None of the persons described above should be considered guilty until he/she is convicted of committing a criminal offense in accordance with the procedures specified in the Latvian Criminal Procedure Law.
By Andra Rubene, Partner, TGS Baltic
This Article was originally published in Issue 4.9 of the CEE Legal Matters Magazine. If you would like to receive a hard copy of the magazine, you can subscribe here.