Latviski English По-русски
Friday 21.10.2016 | Name days: Severīns, Urzula

Druskininkai SPA brouhaha mires top government officials

(No Ratings Yet)

Baltic news, News from Latvia, BNN.LV, BNN-NEWS.COM, BNN-NEWS.RU

Vandens parkas Druskininkai

Linas Jegelevičius for the BNN

The biggest stars of Lithuanian politics, including PM Algirdas Butkevičius, have allegedly splashed and caroused free in what many deem are five-star suites – inaccessible to others, in Aqua, a wellness and leisure centre in Druskininkai.

The resort town in southern Lithuanian has been known for years Social Democrats’ stronghold. Notably, the SPA centre is built for taxpayer money. The opposition does whatever it can to set fire amid the scandal, as Druskininkai authorities try to defuse it, insisting that big names from all the political parties enjoyed the treat.

PM denies allegations

At least five incumbent Social Democratic ministers and the Prime Minister himself reportedly basked the luxury and amenities off reach to the ordinary Aqua visitors. Among the other special guests allegedly were the former chief of STT, Lithuania’s Special Investigation Service and ,now, head of Lithuanian Parliament Speaker Loreta Graužinienė’s chancellery, local big shots and fat cats rubbing shoulders with Druskininkai mayor Ričardas Malinauskas, dubbed «tzar» for his long-term unchallenged ruling and ties with the country’s political elite. He is also a deputy chairman of Lithuania’s Social Democrat Party (SDP).

Following the revelation, Butkevičius’ advisor made statement that PM Algirdas Butkevičius has never used the centre. The other high-ranking Social Democrats mentioned by media mostly keep silence during the scrutiny.

Speaking to BNN, Gediminas Kirkilas, one of the leading members of the party, insisted «there is nothing to respond to.»

«I believe both the public and major of media outlets see that the whole story is stitched up with the seams from the SDP’s political opponents. In Druskininkai, we have always had strong positions and some try desperately to weaken them. If there’s anything illegal in the story, I’d like law enforcement to come forward and do their job,» Kirkilas told.

Off reach of ordinary folks

However, many people in Lithuania feel angry that VIP suites in Aqua are offered for exclusive guests and not accessible to ordinary customers.

«It is as if we are still living in the Soviet Union, where the apparatchiks (Communist party functionaries-L.J.) could enjoy amenities inaccessible to the grassroots,» a commentator posted under a story on Aqua.

The story first was broken out by LNK TV channel’s KK2 show producers.

Led by two Druskininkai councilmen, the journalists sneaked to the VIP suites on the wellness centre’s second floor.

The journalists exposed the posh elements of the rooms’ interior: expensive heavy chandeliers, sophisticated upholstery and embroidery characteristic to a five or six-star hotel, thick hand-made carpets and king-size beds, not to mention the royal space in the glitzy bathroom room.

Having found of the journalists’ visit, exasperated Druskininkai municipality heads asked law enforcement to start investigation in what they believe might have been a case of trespassing.

Opposition wants to see heads fly

With all‘s eyes set on Druskininkai, it also turned out that some of the municipality chiefs’ spouses were on Aqua board, pocketing lavish compensations.

Kaunas district prosecutors have already charged the Aqua director of abuse of power and misuse of the municipality’s resources, but the whistle-blowers, the councilmen, and the parliamentary opposition want see heads flying.

It is especially uneasy that corruption in Druskininkai might be wide-spread and suspect that some other Druskininkai officials might be mired in corruption, too. Recently, a head of the National Land Service’s Druskininkai affiliate has been apprehended on corruption charges.

With the investigation under the way, head of STT’ Kaunas branch has stepped down. Although he cited personal reasons, the suspicions are mounting that political pressure is behind the decision.

Reacting, Gabrielius Landsbergis, the chairman of the opposition Homeland Union- Lithuanian Christian Democrats, known as Conservatives, urged the parliamentarians to «thoroughly» investigate the case in Parliament’s Anti-Corruption Commission.

«Officials probing corruption crimes have to be completely protected from any political pressure, whatever party it comes from,» the Conservatives leader said.

But the Social Democrats and Labour Party are reluctant to give the green light for it.

Former Special Service head: «There’s nothing wrong about it»

Going back to the Aqua scandal, Žydrūnas Pocevičius, the former STT chief, was the first one to break silence and acknowledged he had visited the wellness centre four times.

«I don’t see anything bad in this, because there were events organized by the municipality and, therefore, one of the facilities run by it would provide accommodation for the guests later. I do not think there’s anything wrong about it,»Pocevičius defended himself.

With the brouhaha unrelenting, Malinauskas, the mayor, argues that not only his fellow party members, but high-ranking politicians from other parties have used the posh amenities, too.

He said Valentinas Mazuronis, the former Environment Minister and, now, the chairman of the Labour Party and MEP, as well as Vytautas Landsbergis, the Conservatives’ patriarch, were among the Aqua visitors who did not pay a cent for the services.

Who is right?

«There were so many various visitors- including Conservatives and Liberals- who came to the centre. It seems to me very weird when some people out there organize such kind of schemes in bid to avenge or make harm (to Druskininkai and personally to the mayor). Perhaps they are unclean themselves, therefore we will gather information and, when right time comes, we will make it public to all. If there’s need, we will submit proofs to the public, too,» the Druskininkai mayor said.

But a representative of Landsbergis denied that the prominent politician, who is also a piano virtuoso, has ever stayed in Aqua.

«As a matter of fact, Landsbergis has participated several times in the music festival «Music without borders» and he stayed in another sanatorium, which in partnership with the festival organizers, agreed to provide stay for the festival participants. You cannot invite someone and tell: hey, you will have to take care of your accommodation expenses yourself after you finish performing!»

PM is not behind contested decision?

What now the country’s special services focus on is the wide presence of the municipality’s senior officials’ spouses in the Aqua administration.

It appears that only the mayor’s wife toils in the wellness centre, but the spouses of the deputy mayor, administration director and some other high-ranking municipality officials are employed in it, too.

Malinauskas, the mayor and SD deputy chairman of, had to defend himself recently over the Social Democrats-led Government’s decision to abolish resort zones in the resort.

Long sought by the mayor, the decision is said to play into hands of town developers, not environmentalists and heritage protectors.

With many glancing to PM Butkevičius, Malinauskas denied any clout on the SD chairman and government head.

With the scandal still in the headlines, the mayor left for a business trip to Italy.

SDP is unscathed so far

Despite the adverse limelight the SD found itself in, the party seems to be unscathed so far in the polls.

«In fact, with the Aqua news already in the headlines, the newest poll shows that the support for Social Democrats has even increased. It’s truly phenomenal to see a ruling party ending tenure in Government to be enjoying support of over 20 percent,» Vytautas Dumbliauskas, a political analyst told BNN.

Asked what is behind the rock-solid support, he mentioned the buoyant economy and charisma of the leader, Butkevičius.

«All see that he an antipode to the previous prime minister, Conservaive Andrius Kubilius. Needless to say, the SDP leader is very optimistic, gregarious and able to rub shoulders with everyone,» the analyst pointed out.

He believes the Druskininkai scandal is too local and politicized: «Therefore the people just do not buy it.»

Kirkilas, of SDP, lampoons the oppositions: «It’s very weak, unfortunately. And very pesky, too.»

Ref: 020/

Leave a reply

Saeima Budget Committee conceptually approves 2017 budget project

On Thursday, 20 October, Saeima’s Budget and Finance Committee supported the state budget project for 2017, the medium-term budget contents for 2017, 2018 and 2019 and 57 legal drafts associated with the project.

Facebook sorry for removing breast cancer informative video

Facbook has expressed apologies for the removal of a breast cancer informative video shared on the social network by a Swedish foundation.

Two of the last twenty three first refugees have left Latvia

The last two of the first twenty three refugees resettled in Latvia have left for Germany, as reported by LTV.

Pregnant woman in Italy dies after doctor allegedly refused to perform abortion

Police in predominantly Catholic Italy is investigating a case of a woman pregnant with twins dying after miscarriage.

Russia applies discount on transit from Belarus

Russian Railways has applied a 25% discount on petrol, diesel fuel and crude cargo transports from oil processing plants in Belarus to Russia’s north-west ports. With that, Russia has basically provided Belarus with tariffs equal to tariffs in Baltics.

The first container train headed for Riga departs from China

On Thursday, 20 October, Latvian Transport Minister Uldis Augulis, representatives from LDz and YXE International Container Train, multiple Chinese officials and Latvia’s ambassador in China Maris Selga saw off the first test container train from China to Riga.

Customs officials intercept hashish shipment worth EUR 2 million

Latvian State Revenue Service’s Customs Police intercepted and confiscated a shipment of more than 200 kg of hashish worth EUR 2 million, as journalists were informed by SRS Customs Police Director Kaspars Podins on Thursday, 20 October.

SA: Riga Freeport has only realized one of five of our recommendations

Latvian State Audit follows the development of the largest investment projects especially carefully, because the state does not seem to handle them all that well. Krievu Island project is one of the largest investment projects, because there is European Union finances invested in it...

Job seekers in Lithuania want Western salaries, employers dumbstruck

Although Lithuanian labour market is in desperate for workforce, but those willing to toil will nod to a job offer only if the pay is really big. So big that the country‘s hirers feel like grabbing their heads upon hearing the candidates‘ salary expectations.

Overall government budget decreased in 2015

In 2015, the general government budget deficit amounted to EUR 309.0 million or 1.3% of the gross domestic product, whereas the general government consolidated gross debt amounted to EUR 8 846.3 million or 36.3% of the GDP.

SP: claims about Motorola’s murderer are an attempt to show Latvia as the enemy

Latvian Security Police views claims that Donetsk military commander Arseny Pavlov, aka Motorola, was allegedly killed by a hired killer from Latvia named Marks Ozolins is nothing more than yet another attempt at information war aimed to demonstrate Latvia and its citizens and enemies.

Estonian President Kaljulaid not to ask state to pay rent

Estonia’s new President Kersti Kaljulaid will not ask the state to pay rent for using her home unlike the former head of state Toomas Hendrik Ilves did.

Every third coin with Milda’s image has made its way to Europe

Every third euro coin with Milda’s image has found its way to Europe. The proportion of those coins in Latvia is 71% of all euro coins in circulation, according to monitoring data compiled by Citadele Bank’s CBL Cash Logistics service.

Estonia plans to increase female proportion in military

Estonia has announced plans to triple female involvement in the country’s Defence Forces and to expand the list of units accessible to woman soldiers by 2018.

Pre-paid mobile card users to be registered as part of a plan to reduce grey economy

At the meeting of state secretaries on 20 October, a proposal was presented from the transport ministry to begin registration of mobile pre-paid card users.

Next year’s budget plan and other decisions viewed by Saeima this week

On Thursday, 20 October, the Saeima will gather for an extraordinary meeting, during which deputies will discuss the next year’s budget plan and 57 associated legal drafts.

European Space Agency attempts to re-connect to its Mars probe

The European Space Agency has lost contact with its Mars probe on October 19 shortly prior to its planned landing on the planet.

Klauss withdraws from SRS personnel selection process

Kristaps Klauss, executive directors of Latvian Forest Industry Federation, has decided to withdraw from State Revenue Service’s personnel selection process.

Lembergs to continue testifying in court at the end of October

Aivars Lembergs, who is accused of serious crimes, will continue testifying in his own criminal case on 31 October, as confirmed by Riga Regional Court’s press-secretary Raimonds Locmelis.

Germany: No miracles accomplished at Normandy quartet negotiations in Berlin

Following the October 19 summit talks in Berlin over ending the Donbas War, German Chancellor Angela Merkel has evaluated that no miracles have been accomplished.

Rumours state Donetsk militant commander Motorola was killed by Latvian mercenary

On Wednesday, 19 October, rumours began surfacing on Ukrainian and Russian websites that Donetsk pro-Moscow militant commander Arseny Pavlov, aka Motorola, was possibly killed by Latvian mercenary named Marks Ozolins.

Clocks to be turned one hour back at the end of October

Daylight saving time will end in Latvia and elsewhere in the world on 30 October, when clocks will have to be turned one hour back.

More than half of businesses in Latvia have a website

63.5% of enterprises in Latvia had a website at the beginning 2016, which was 4.5 percentage points more than in 2015. Similarly to previous years, at the beginning of the present year a website was set up by most of the accommodation service and information and communication service providers.

Maxima in Estonia also attracts Latvians tackling shortage of workers

With many retailers in Estonia struggling to find workers for modestly-paid jobs, Lithuanian retail giant Maxima is attracting Estonians for afar and even Latvians to fill the vacant places.

Russia plans to apply discount on transit from Belarus equal to tariffs for Baltic ports

Russian Railways plans to consider the possibility to apply 25% discount for petrol, diesel fuel and crude transit from oil processing plants in Belarus to Russia’s north-west ports. This would provide tariffs equal to those applied for Baltic ports, as reported by Kommersant.