Oligarch probe a "farce" says latest witness

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The work of the parliamentary ad hoc commission investigating the so-called ''oligarch conversations" scandal is a farce, Juris Jurass, the former head of the Criminal Intelligence Process Division at the Latvian Corruption Prevention Bureau (KNAB), told the press after the latest meeting of the commission behind closed doors January 4.

The committee today questioned Jurass, who was one of the high-ranking KNAB officials in charge of the original investigation of the oligarch affair, and who is now a politician with the New Conservative Party but Jurass said the questioning had been very formal.

"I got the impression that the committee actually has little determination to uncover the true reasons for closing the criminal case. I see the committee as a great farce," he said, referring to the fact that the committee chairwoman, Inguna Sudraba has herself been mentioned in the oligarch conversations.

In addition, Prosecutor Maris Leja, who was in charge of the original criminal proceeding, is a member of the committee, although he should be among those that the commission is questioning, Jurass asserted, reiterating his previous public statements about KNAB lacking support from the prosecutor's office while investigating the oligarch affair.

Moreover, there were measures taken against those KNAB officers who were pushing for progress in the investigation, and this was one of the reasons why the criminal case was closed without pressing charges against any suspects, he claimed.

He also said that he and several other former high-ranking KNAB officials had not had any part in the KNAB investigation of the oligarch affair since 2012.

As reported, the Latvian parliament set up the ad hoc committee to probe the so-called oligarch affair to look for signs of state capture and to examine the quality of pre-trial investigation.

Prosecutor General Eriks Kalnmeiers was another of those testifying Thursday behind closed doors but revealed little of what was discussed to journalists forced to wait outside the closed door.

However, it was known that proceedings were disrupted by independent MP Artuss Kaimins who attempted to stream the secret session via his famous webcam before being prevented from doing so. He and commission member Andrejs Judins were later involved in a social media spat over their respective conduct during the session.

The oligarch conversations are a series of transcripts of high-ranking politicians and businessmen's conversations at Ridzene hotel in Riga which have been published by the Ir magazine.

Those records were one of the main pieces of evidence in a 2011 criminal case on bribery, money laundering, abuse of office and other crimes, implicating a number of high-ranking politicians and public figures, including Andris Skele, Aivars Lembergs, Ainars Slesers and others.

The oligarchs themselves, as well as a number of their business associates (including serving Agriculture Minister Janis Duklavs) have all appeared before the commission, generally to little effect, and in several cases have succeeded in turning the tables on their inquisitors.

The Corruption Prevention Bureau investigated the case for several years, but eventually concluded that the secretly-recorded conversations did not constitute compelling evidence, therefore the criminal case was closed without any charges being brought.

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