Linas Jegelevicius for the BNN
Being long disliked by the public and prosecuted by the justice for an alleged take of bribe, Eligijus Masiulis, a former Lithuanian parliamentarian and the dethroned leader of the Liberal Movement, has laid out his this week his own sequence of the events leading to the fall.
«It was not a bribe but a loan,» the embattled man insisted on the national TV past Tuesday.
Law enforcement suspects Masiulis of having accepted a 90,000 euro bribe from Raimondas Kurlianskis, the vice-president of the business holding MG Baltics, for «certain decisions advantageous to the corporation.»
A search of Masiulis’ posh cottage in central Vilnius in May turned up around 250,000 euro in cash with the officers suspecting the money was obtained illegally.
In the much anticipated TV appearance, Masiulis, who is under investigation for alleged influence peddling and bribe taking, claims the money that investigators found in his home was in fact a personal loan extended to him by Kurlianskis, a big shot at MG Baltics.
«I borrowed 90,000 euro from Raimondas Kurlianskas on May 10 this year, to be repaid within a year,» stated Masiulis in an announcement he sent first to BNS, a news agency, and 15min.lt portal on Tuesday evening. Later, the announcement was posted on Facebook.
Masiulis: Mine and my relatives’ savings
In Masiulis’ words, he was planning to invest the funds in real estate in Nida, a lush picturesque resort on the Lithuanian seaside.
«In addition to 90,000 I borrowed from Kurlianskis, the rest of money (160,000 euro) was savings accumulated by me and my relatives for investment in real estate projects,» he explained.
That the agreement was not signed at a notary office Masiulis called «a big blunder».
«Simply speaking, I screwed it up big time,» one the promising Lithuanian politician explained illustratively.
Despite the nature of receiving the money – the MG Baltic‘s vice president ostensibly handed it to Masiulis with the latter waiting in his car near the Lithuanian Parliament, Seimas, Masiulis denies having taken any bribe from Kurlianskis and insists all the funds found were obtained legitimately.
With the investigation under the way, similar suspicions later werebrought against Kurlianskis and former Seimas member Vytautas Gapšys, a Labourist, who, the prosecution alleges, has taken a 25,000 euro bribe to vote for legislation favourable for the corporation.
A fodder for internet porch dogs
With Masiulis’ confession out, the internet users went berserk taunting and ridiculing the Liberals’ fallen chief.
Some of the zingers are worth to be quoted for all.
A man, who posted a post under the name of Aleksas Jonaitis, noted: «What an interesting way of getting a loan with only one signature, that of Masiulis, on the paper. If there is no signature of Kurlianskis on it, it is a bribe. If Kurlianskis gives money that way and does not need any assurances in getting his money back, what kind of a loan are we here talking about?»
Pijus Dambrauskas, the other online poster, said: «Is Masiulis really so silly? He promised us all to reveal something very interesting, but what he told us is sheer baloney, that‘s it….Every third-grader would have concocted a more plausible explanation than he did…He is such a sleaze, one fearing of accountability…»
A man under the name of Morkūnas quipped under a Delfi.lt story on Masiulis’ testimony: «Wow, very interesting. I cannot wait to see the continuation of the saga as I am very interested in investments with no money in my pockets…If I were the judge, I would forfeit all his assets and put him behind bars for at least 15 years…But now, likely, the litigation will drag on endlessly like the case of Viktoras Uspaskich (former Labour Party chairman who fought off the bulk of accusations stemming from the party‘s shadowy bookkeeping-L.J.) did and Masiulis will be exonerated at the end.»
New chairman nails former leader
Fellow Liberals, however, did not rush to disavow of their former leader after his well-scripted TV appearance.
MP Eugenijus Gentvilas, who chairs the Liberal Movement’s group in the Seimas, said he is «convinced» by Masiulis’ explanation.
«This is why we didn’t know anything about it, because it had nothing to do with the party … In this sense, I am convinced. Moreover, could Masiulis lie and invent this story, if phone tap records (made by investigators) showed something entirely different,» Gentvilas said.
Speaking to BNN, Jolita Vaickienė, a MP from the Kretinga electoral district, emphasised she felt «saddened» by the whole story and wanted the justice «do its work».
When running for a Seimas seat in the expanded constituency, the «Masiulis factor» has been a «considerable blow» to her endeavour, the lawmaker admitted.
«But I have to deal with it and hope it will fizzle out until the election,» she said.
But Remigijus Šimašius, mayor of Vilnius and the new chairman of the Liberal party, condemned Masiulis, claiming that Masiulis’ political career has been «over» and has remain as such for «ever.»
«No large amount of money has ever to end up being in the form of cash in the hands of any politician,» Šimašius underscored.
Party is at mercy of prosecutors
Meanwhile, Laurynas Kasčiūnas, a political observer, believes that Masiulis’ political career has been over, with no chances to ever revive it.
«It has been a big blow to the Liberal Party and the polls show it best (the support for the party in the wake of the brouhaha shrank three-fold-from 15 per cent to 5 percent – L.J.). To some extent, the party is at the mercy of the prosecutors: will they want to keep it in the bad spotlight until the election, or will they give it a break for a month or so,» Kasčiūnas told BNN.
Meanwhile conservative leader Gabrielius Landsbergis said that Masiulis version of events was thin and hardly convincing.
«I am completely unconvinced and it’s even embarrassing to listen to such explanations. We live in the 21st century and everyone knows that a notary is involved in lending money, contracts are drawn up and singed. I could hardly believe that this was a loan,» Landsbergis, the chairman of the Homeland Union – Lithuanian Christian Democrats (TS-LKD), said.
Nothing new about the defence
A loan or repayment of loans is the most frequent defence in corruption crimes, says Saulius Urbanavičius, the head of Lithuania’s Special Investigation Service conducting probes of political corruption.
«A suspect, in this case Eligijus Masiulis, can testify or refuse to testify at all. When giving testimony, they can tell the truth or defend themselves in other ways. Our experience is that the most frequent defence version in crimes of corruption that it was a loan or repayment of a loan,» Urbanavičius said.
The Prosecutor General‘s Office has not provided a comment on Masiulis‘ testimony.
«The Prosecutor General’s Office is not the institution that would get into public counter-argumentation with a participant of proceedings. Our function is to conduct a pre-trial investigation and complete it in a way that it should be completed or drop it, if no features of criminal deeds are established,» spokeswoman Elena Martinonienė said in a statement.
Bank banks on Masiulis‘ misery
With the Masiulis testimony in the headlines, DNB Bank has decided to bank on Masiulis’ notoriety, launching a new mortgage campaign on social media under the eye-catchy slogan: «We will give you loan that does not need to be hidden in a bottle‘s package», a reference to the bottle package in which Masiulis stashed 200 and 500 euro bills in his car.