Linas Jegelevičius for the BNN
For many years, Eligijus Masiulis, the chairman of Lithuania’s Liberal Movement, would stood out in the scandals-prone Lithuanian politics as a spotless figure with the record of an avid fighter against the vices of national politics – corruption, shady lobbyism and the remnants of the Soviet mentality. But in a single day the long-cherished reputation has been shattered with a snap of finger.
Charges of corruption and influence peddling
The raiders from the country’s Special Investigation Service (STT) busted the Liberals leader’s posh cottage on Mindaugas Street in central Vilnius and seized 106,000 euros – all beforehand marked by the special economic police unit.
Behind the bribe allegedly stands vice-president of the major Lithuanian business corporation MG Baltic, Raimondas Kurlianskis, who was apprehended following the raid. He faces charges of corruption and influence peddling. Sources in Lithuania’s Prosecutor General’s Office maintain MG Baltic had asked the Liberals’ chairman to pave way for motions in favour of the company’s business interests.
As the pre-trial investigation is ongoing, both Masiulis and the corporation’s executives keep their mouths shut, excusing themselves that it is the prosecutor who told them not to talk anything about the case.
How could it happen?
With the Liberals leader in hot water, political life observers, Liberals’ grassroots as well as ordinary citizens continued guessing how the politician, who always portrayed himself as an avid fighter against corruption, could end up in such shame.
Few commentators believe, however, that the money was supposed to fill Masiulis’ wallet. The most pondered it had to be funnelled into the party’s coffers and used to pay for services not on the official books.
Throughout the liberals’ ordeal, the internet was teeming with taunting zingers, like this one: «C’mon, Masiulis is just a victim. Do you really believe he could entrust his deputy Arvydas Guogas with the cooked books? Certainly not.»
Some of the liberals even suspect that the eccentric deputy might have colluded in ousting Masiulis. No evidence has been provided to support the claim, however.
Deputy’s cranky proposals
During the Liberals’ upheaval, Arvydas Guogas, the party’s first deputy chairman, a MEP and owner of an internationally operating betting company, TonyBet, stepped forward attempting to reign in the imminent damage to the party. But the propositions he’s made in that regard over the last couple of days left many bewildered. The multimillionaire of the Australian descent proposed to use lie detector not only to screen the fellow senior party members, but also the honchos of the other parties. Guoga also declared he wanted to replace the party’s secretary general with a senior-advisor, also Liberal, who is now on President Dalia Grybauskaitė’s team.
And furthermore: with the investigation just off the ground, the eccentric Lithuanian Australian hurried to repudiate the embattled party leader, repeating that the evidence the law enforcers have «are sufficient» to put Masiulis behind the bars. With all shaking their heads in disbelief, Guoga also pledged to build a church for his own money and to set up a fund, to which he promised 20 million euros, out of his pocket, too.
Liberals stripped Guoga of party membership
As the other Liberals were harkening to the party’s first deputy chairman in disbelief and anger, Guogas’ public bravado was abruptly stopped with the members of the Board of the Liberal Movement voting nearly unanimously to strip Guoga of the Liberal Party membership.
«Over the last three of four days Guoga was basking in the TV limelight, but he misused the appearances, failing to assess the risks that the TV cameras can be. Instead of trying to defuse the situation (that the Liberals found themselves in), he has been pouring gas into the fire,» Eugenijus Gentvilas, the leader of the Liberals’ electoral list told Lithuanian press.
Liberals can pay big price
Refusing to acknowledge defeat, defiant Guoga has vowed his support for the Conservatives (Lithuania’s Homeland Union and Lithuanian Christian Democrats) and hinted his political career is far away from being over.
Although many political analysts believe the opposite now, but some spout the internationally famous poker player will likely find his way to a presidential election race in 2019.
But the damage the party has suffered from his statements might be far-reaching.
«The Liberals have blown up a bomb in front themselves ahead of the parliamentary election campaign,» says Mažvydas Jastramskis, a political scientist of the Institute of International Relations and Political Sciences at Vilnius University.
«Unlike in other corruption scandals, this time the party leader himself is mired. Coupled with the fact that he was the poster face of the Liberals’ election campaign and that the large amount of money was seized at his home, the scandal can be too much for the Liberals to bear,» the analyst says.
Vilnius mayor took over party reins
Masiulis retains his parliamentary immunity until the Central Electoral Commission passes a decision to revoke his parliamentary immunity. Masiulis shows no sign to give a fight for it on the Lithuanian Parliament floor.
With the party’s two chief men off the political stage for now, Remigijus Šimašius, the mayor of Vilnius, has emerged as a possible successor of the troubled party. The other candidate mentioned by media is Eugenijus Gentvilas, a sexagenarian MP and former MEP.
In the time being, the liberals agreed that the former will temporarily head the party until the party’s convention picks up a new leader in June and the latter will lead the Liberal Movement’s electoral list.
Although the party tries to heal the wounds, some analysts ponder the party convention might turn into a battle for the power among the party’s different groups and that of Guoga, too.