Anti-corruption chief says he can improve agency's reputation

Jekabs Straume, the recently-installed head of Latvia's dedicated anti-corruption agency, the Corruption Prevention and Combating Bureau (KNAB) told Latvian Radio December 11 that despite a decade of strife within the bureau, he is hopeful of improving its reputation and operational effectiveness.

Now five months into his job, Straume has made a point of being open and honest, particularly with journalists, but admits that sometimes in reading interviews he has given, he may not have said as much as he thought at the time.

"But perhaps that's just my character - that I don't tend to talk at length," he says with admirable conciseness.

For more than 16 years Straume worked for Military Intelligence and Security Service. However, he began his career at the State Police Organized Crime Combating Bureau, so in a sense taking the helm at KNAB saw him returning to familiar ground.

The nature of his previous work meant that he was more or less unknown to the general public despite having held fairly senior positions. In contrast, being KNAB chief is one of the highest-profile positions in the country. One of his first acts in his new job was to overhaul the agency's social media profiles to provide much more information, regularly updated, and even to set up his own personal accounts.

Dealing with the past

The new position immediately came with a test. "Ir" magazine published the so-called oligarchs' conversations, transcripts of recordings made by KNAB several years ago, which caused a major scandal (though as yet no court action).

Straume had immediately to deal with the situation, a legacy from his less-than-impressive predecessors.

"Yes, it was a bit of a surprise, of course. It probably took up a little bit more of my time than I would have liked, but it is necessary to work on those issues that need to be dealt with each day, including issues from the past," says Straume.

The episode taught him a lesson, he says, and gave an opportunity to reflect on how the bureau has worked in the past and to resolve outstanding issues such as the oligarch conversations, with many people not understanding how after collecting such apparently damning evidence, no charges could have been brought.

"I have a clear idea of who did what and how. I also have a picture of what was done well, badly, enough and insufficiently, but as long as the [Saeima] commission of inquiry continues, it would not be appropriate to influence the work of the commission by specify it," says the KNAB chief.

And while he sympathizes with the public's demand for visible action on combating corruption, he emphasizes that this can only come via rule of law from all sides.

"Anarchy and chaos in the country should not be tolerated either. We have to think about it - if it's classified information, then it cannot be revealed," Straume says.

He believes that disclosure of classified information should be punished, particularly as it can adversely affect the work of other investigations. KNAB and other services not only collect information themselves by using different methods permitted by law, but also work with informants, people who provide information that can assist in investigations.

If people are aware that the bureau cannot keep their information and their sources confidential, information providers may not come forward," he warns.

"We should not mix two different things in the same pot - the raising of concerns and the disclosure of official secrets. It is not one and the same," Straume points out.

Straume insists that after years of internal warfare among the staff of KNAB, he now has a united team team - and that he understands the public's desire to see more active work and results from KNAB.

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