"Let's talk about corruption" says U.S. ambassador

Take note – story published 4 years ago

The United States' ambassador to Latvia, Nancy Bikoff Pettit said December 9 that Latvia needs to do a lot more to tackle corruption or risk paying heavy financial, politicial and social penalties.

In an unusual move, the embassy published Bikoff Pettit's thoughts in a statement on a Sunday, December 9, to coincide with International Anti-Corruption Day.

After several introductory paragraphs in which she noted the ties between Latvia and the U.S. and her personal regard for the country to which she has been posted, Bikoff Pettit launched into her main message, saying:

"I want to tell you – as your friend and as someone who wants to see Latvia succeed and prosper – Latvia can and must do better in its fight against corruption."

"There are reports of serious corruption in almost every major aspect of society and government in Latvia: government procurement, healthcare, construction, EU-financed development projects, the insolvency and judicial systems, banking, political party financing, and transportation, to name a few," she continued.

"Make no mistake – corruption in Latvia is not a victimless crime. Corruption has consequences. Major investors, both foreign and domestic, tell me that the costs of corruption here discourage them from making more investments in Latvia, causing the country to lose out on high-paying jobs that could bolster economic growth, keep Latvia’s bright and well-educated young people from moving abroad, and entice those who already left to return home with their families. Some business leaders say that if the situation doesn’t improve soon, they will pull their investments out of Latvia. We recently learned that a major investment in one of Latvia’s key strategic sectors fell apart at the last minute because of the foreign investors’ concerns over corruption."

She did not name the investment to which she alluded.

"More must be done so investors do not view Latvia as being a haven for money laundering and illicit finance. Unless Latvia demonstrates significant and tangible progress before the Council of Europe’s next MONEYVAL assessment, corruption in the banking sector may contribute to Latvia being gray listed – a designation of countries with poor money-laundering controls. This would even further isolate Latvia from the international business and banking communities," the ambassador continued.

The statement then lists things which, in the need of the U.S., need to be done.

"To date, the penalties imposed against Latvia-based banks involved in money laundering scandals have been paltry," Bikoff Pettit said.

The judiciary also needs to up its game, she said: "Even if these criminals are convicted, they often receive reduced sentences because the trial took so long. This is not a deterrent. This does not deliver justice to the real victims of corruption – the Latvian people. Harsher penalties to individuals and companies send a clear message that corruption will not be tolerated in Latvia."

Despite the timing on International Anti-Corruption Day, the message appears to be designed solely for consumption in Latvia - the U.S. embassies in Estonia and Lithuania did not issue similar statements.

The overall message had echoes of a similar statement delivered by Bikoff Pettit's predecessor, Catherine Todd Bailey, in 2007.

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