Latvia to Vote on Dissolving Parliament Amid Corruption Probe

Latvians will vote this year in a referendum to dissolve the parliament after President Valdis Zatlers responded to lawmakers’ failure to lift the immunity of a deputy targeted by a corruption probe by calling the vote.

Zatlers, whose four-year term expires in July, doesn’t have the right to dissolve parliament outright. Lawmakers, elected in October, will decide next week whether to extend his term or to pick a new president. A lost referendum would require Zatlers to resign.

“This decision is difficult for me personally,” he said in a televised address yesterday. “I clearly understand the consequences of this decision and my chances.”

Latvia’s anti-corruption agency opened a probe against a number of unnamed officials on May 20. Parliament on May 26 voted against a request from the general prosecutor to lift the immunity of Ainars Slesers, an opposition member of parliament and former transport minister, to allow a search of his home.

The vote was “like a siren that warned about a serious conflict between the power of the legislative branch and the judiciary,” Zatlers said. “A feeling arises that the newly elected parliament feels comfortable in an atmosphere of lies and impunity.”

Anti-corruption agents conducted searches at a number of companies and offices last week, Latvian Television reported on May 26.

“The evidence in our possession gives reason to believe that public officials and officials holding a responsible position” may have participated in operating businesses and received dividends from secretly held shares in companies, the bureau said in a statement on its website the same day. It is also looking into possible bribery and bribe taking, according to the statement on May 26.

Slesers wasn’t mentioned in the bureau’s news release, which refers to an unidentified member of parliament who may have influenced decision-making at a number of companies and secretly held shares in others.

“What I can unequivocally say is that the facts that are mentioned do not correspond to the truth,” Slesers told reporters in comments broadcast on Latvian Television on May 26. “I’m not an owner of any of the businesses mentioned.”

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