I would like to hear a promise that no laws, which regulate KNAB operations, will be amended behind the agency's back. I want to make sure that never is there a situation in which a law is adopted today and has to be implemented tomorrow, but no one has informed us, no one has consulted with us.
An interview with Juta Strike, Deputy Director of the Corruption Prevention and Combating Bureau, by Rita Ruduša, Editor-in-Chief of politika.lv
At what point and how did you learn that amendments were being prepared to laws which regulate the work of security institutions?
We did not even know that the amendments were being prepared. We learned about them when the Committee of the Cabinet of Ministers had already approved them on January 2 — the first working day of the new year. It was around 10:00 or 11:00 o’clock in the morning when the news agencies started to report that the Committee approved amendments to the law on operative action and the law on national security institutions.
In other words, you learned about the amendments by accident. No one informed you, no one invited you to attend any meetings?
No one submitted any proposals to us. I later found out that in the morning of Tuesday, January 2, the issue was not yet on the electronic agenda of the Committee. Apparently it appeared there at the very last moment. We also had no chance to learn that the Committee would even be considering such amendments. If we had known, then of course we would have gone to the meeting and tried to explain that the amendments are unacceptable in the way in which they are written — they were absurd, they were apparently written by a dilettante.
You used the term absurd. Please explain in greater detail what you mean.
The most absurd thing, one, which me noticed right away, ahs to do with operative activities. These are addressed in the law on operative activities, and there are many different processes — operative information, operative surveys, and operative investigations. These are things, which are agreed within institutions. For instance, we receive information about a possible case of corruption. We talk to the source of the information or find the views of others who may have information at their disposal. That is everyday work for the police and for the KNAB. The amendments say that each time we need the agreement of the prosecutor-general. That is absurd. That would mean that the prosecutor-general would have no time to do anything other than reach agreement on such processes. The approval of a court or prosecutor is usually asked in those cases when on behalf of the public good, an individual’s rights are somehow affected. In this case, however, we deal with initial checks of information, and this involves no effect on human rights.
Does this mean that you now really have to agree with the prosecutor-general on every process of this kind?
Yes. For instance, we may receive a claim that a government official is corrupt. Before talking to the person who has told us that, we would have to receive permission from the prosecutor-general. As soon as I read the amendments, I called the Prosecutor-General’s Office on the phone. I cannot claim that they learned about the amendments shortly before I did or learned about them from me, but it was certainly news to them. I also contacted national security institutions, they knew nothing. Then I started to study the documents to find out who knows something. It turned out that the responsible person for the issue was Mr. Lazdins [an advisor to the prime minister on internal affairs, Raimonds Lazdins]. I also learned that the Legal Department of the Cabinet of Ministers had objected to the speed at which this was all done. The approval of the Justice Ministry had not been received. That is very odd, because such fundamentally important documents are always agreed. What is more, the Prosecutor-General’s Office oversees the law on operative activities, and it is unimaginable that these amendments were approved with the knowledge of that office. I tried to find out whom to contact, because the prime minister was abroad. Then I learned that on January 4 there was to be a meeting to discuss the whole matter.
Did you also learn about this meeting accidentally? Did the KNAB not receive an official invitation?
No, I was not invited. I got the impression that many people turned up without an invitation. Lazdins called and asked me not to attend.
How did he explain that request?
He said that the National Police, which is a major subject of operative activities, was not invited, so I the KNAB should not be there either. I answered that the range of people who are mentioned in the amendments involves people who have access to state secrets, and in most cases these are KNAB clients. I was not sure that the Prosecutor-General’s Office would be present at the meeting, so it was fundamentally important for me to be there and to try to prevent the approval of the amendments in that version.
What was the atmosphere at the meeting?
One person who was there was the deputy director of the SAB [Bureau to Protect the Constitution], Dzenitis. Also there was the commander of the Security Police, Reiniks, a representative of the Military Espionage and Security Service, Krekis, as well as the state secretaries of the Defense Ministry and the Justice Ministry. They all posed questions to Lazdins, but he was evasive in his replies.
How did he explain the haste with which these amendments were approved?
I cannot say that Lazdins answered any questions. I cannot repeat his answers. The most important thing requested by security institutions was that there be a clear decision on what the Council of National Security Institutions would be discussing and on who would be taking part in those meetings. It seems that Lazdins understood that the text of the amendments was imprecise. During the meeting, he started to change the text. An article appeared in the law on operative activities about reaching the agreement of the Bureau to Protect the Constitution, and that in fact made the amendments even more absurd.
Lazdins claimed that other changes would be made after the meeting. It was not clear which version would be the one about which institutions would be asked to offer their views. We certainly wanted to present our views about the law on operative activity to the Cabinet of Ministers, but we needed to know the last version, we needed to know when it would be ready. The meeting was held on Thursday, and the Cabinet meeting was to take place the following Monday. I understood that the KNAB would not be given timely information about the amendments. Lazdins made it clear that KNAB views had been received at the meeting and that was all. We have the right to express our views, however — no one can keep us from doing so.
Did the atmosphere at the meeting indicate that the approval of the amendments was inevitable?
Indeed. Directors of national security institutions said at the meeting that they understood that the amendments would be approved in one way or another. Another very peculiar thing is that when we arrived for the Cabinet of Ministers meeting on January 9, amendments to the law on operative activities had been stricken from the agenda. We had submitted our written view to the prime minister that the law could not be amended in line with Article 81 of the Constitution, because this is a process law. The Constitution says that such laws cannot be amended in this way. The other amendments to other laws were recorded during the meeting of the Cabinet. I might add that neither the SAB nor the Security Police was represented at the Cabinet meeting. I must ask whether they agree to the whole process.
The most peculiar amendment to appear had to do with MPs from the Saeima National Security Committee or their authorized officials — people who have access to state secrets and who now have the right to investigate national security institutions and receive the necessary information and documents. What do they mean by authorized officials? The last thing is that I find it very odd that the amendments contain a sentence about the lawfulness and justification for operative activities. Lawfulness and justification are examined by prosecutors and courts, after all. Now it turns out that MPs can do the same. What does that mean? I do not understand.
The question is how this will all be implemented in practical terms. If MPs really plan to make full use of their right to study any documents from national security institutions, then we will have to think about whether it is risky to cooperate with the SAB and provide information to it. After all, that information can then be demanded by people who may be our clients. I cannot claim that this was the distinct intention. The amendments apply to national security institutions, not the KNAB, but we exchange information, and if we know that MPs can have access to the information, then that becomes a risk factor.
Do you have any ideas about why these amendments were proposed in the first place?
Sadly, I have only communicated about the amendments with Lazdins and Brekis (the director of the Information Analysis Service, Andris Brekis). I have heard no other views. They kept changing their statements, and I cannot conclude anything. What I wanted to hear at the meeting and, later, on the television show What is Happening in Latvia?, was a promise that the laws which regulate KNAB operations will not be amended behind the agency’s back. I want to make sure that never is there a situation in which a law is adopted today and has to be implemented tomorrow, but no one has informed us, no one has consulted with us. I did not hear a clear promise, however.