PM “surprised” at latest KNAB warfare

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Prime Minister Laimdota Straujuma said Tuesday she was “surprised” at the latest outbreak of internal warfare at Latvia's dedicated anti-graft police, the Corruption Prevention and Combating Bureau (KNAB).

Commenting a decision announced Monday by KNAB director Jaroslavs Strelcenoks to demote his long-serving and high-profile deputy, Juta Strike, to a minor administrative role, Straujuma said on LTV's morning news show: “It surprises me because Mr Strelcenoks asked me for permission to go on leave and I had no reason to refuse. But then the day before departing he takes such a decision.”

Strelcenoks has already tried twice to sack his deputy, only for her to be reinstated at the insistence of government.

This time she faces being demoted to a junior administrative role well away from the bureau's main action and the anti-graft raids she has led in the past.

Strelcenoks has repeatedly complained that Strike has been insubordinate and that she ignores his instructions. Strike in turn has complained that Strelcenoks is out of his depth in his important role.

For her part, Strike announced Monday evening through her lawyer Ilona Jirgena that she would appeal Strelcenoks decision just as she had appealed previous disciplinary measures and that transferring someone with such lengthy crime-fighting experience to a job in the personnel department of KNAB was a “mockery”.

Trouble within the ranks of KNAB is nothing new. The agency has been in turmoil almost without a break ever since 2007 when a government attempt to sack the respected then-director Aleksejs Loskutovs backfired and contributed to the collapse of the government of Prime Minister Aigars Kalvitis.

When Loskutovs was eventually dismissed after it emerged some KNAB agents had been pocketing thousands of euros seized in raids, his replacement Normunds Vilnitis proved a hapless and unpopular figure who fought his own running battle with Strike.

That time around, Strike won the day and Vilnitis was sacked by parliamentary vote in 2011, but hopes that incoming director Strelcenoks could calm the waters have proved to be over-optimistic.

Prime Minister Laimdota Straujuma in May described the situation at KNAB as “absurd” and subsequently voiced the opinion that Strelcenoks should consider resigning. He responded by revealing that an investigation was underway into Straujuma's own business dealings concerning an alleged conflict of interest.

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