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Latvian Consul accused of extortion

By Gvantsa Gabekhadze
Tuesday, April 20
Latvia’s Consulate in Georgia has become embroiled in a scandal following reports that Consul Gundegas Smutengas has been demanding illegal payments in return for granting visa applications. These reports were broadcast by Latvian TV channel TV3 on April 18.

The reports stated that Smutengas had demanded costly jewellery from Georgian citizens in return for granting them visas to enter Latvia. TV3 had been told this by an applicant who had been refused a visa without explanation when all his documents were in order and there were no grounds for refusing him. This man stated publicly that the Consul demanded jewellery from him in exchange for granting the visa. Based on this Smutengas has been recalled to Latvia and Latvia’s Foreign Ministry is carrying out an investigation. However Latvian diplomats and Government structures are not making any official statements on this matter.

“I have spoken to my superiors and unfortunately they cannot make any official statement at the present moment. The only thing I can advise you to do is contact the Latvian Foreign Ministry's Press Service and get information from them,” a Latvian diplomat told the Georgian media. Head of this service Reds Blesens, confirmed that the investigation was taking place. "I can confirm that an internal investigation into the activities of the Latvian Honorary Consuls in Georgia and Ukraine (further allegations have been spread about similar conduct by the Consul in Odessa). These individuals are not Consuls however, they are Honorary Consuls, which is a different thing,” Blesens said.

Blesens would neither confirm nor deny the Latvian Consul’s recall. However people visiting the Consulate on April 19 state that a different person was dealing with visa applications. "When I first delivered my documents a woman and a man were there who spoke Russian and Georgian, but today there was only a man with spectacles, who gave me a visa to Latvia,” one of the applicants said. Others confirmed that previously they met a woman but on April 19 they were given their visas by this man.

The Messenger has also tried to obtain information from the Georgian Foreign Ministry concerning this case but it is also refusing to make any official statement.