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Lithuanian MPs deal with smut resolvedly, but is it sign of parliamentarian transparency?

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Lithuania’s Peasant and Green’s Union (LPGU) party Chairman Ramunas Karbauskis

Linas Jegelevičius for the BNN

If the Lithuanian lawmakers’ adhering to law and ethics was to be judged by the events from the last couple of weeks, one could conjure up an impression that the Lithuanian legislature is one of the most transparent around – and a whole lot such than the previous parliamentary term.

A single week at the Parliament has put in jeopardy the legislator mandates of two seasoned MPs and other two top-tier politicians ended up in embarrassment after Lithuanian officials’ ethics watchdog, the Chief Official Ethics Commission, VTEK, ruled that they have breached ethics.

Weighing in on the happening, Linas Kojala, head of the Vilnius-based Eastern Europe Studies Centre (EESC), a NGO, told BNN that the events can be interpreted in two ways.

«On one hand, the term’s Seimas has been dealing with transparency issues from the beginning of the term. On the other hand, the determination it has shown in rooting out maladies in the house is commendable,» Kojala emphasised.

Absent-minded politicians

The names of the latter two, as a matter of fact, are very well known to each Lithuanian household – Ramūnas Karbauskis, the leader of the ruling Lithuanian Farmers and Greens Union, LVŽS, and the party’s potential candidate in 2019 presidential election, had to blush after the VTEK decided that he violated the Law on the Adjustment of Private and Public Interests in Civil Service by failing to timely declare all the transactions and business deals he and his wife have signed.

Its appears the LVŽS leader forgot to mark in his assets declaration that he had obtained a 770 000 euro loan from a Spanish bank and that his wife has gotten a luxurious Porche Cayenne car from one of his companies.

Meanwhile, Andrius Kubilius, former chairman of the Homeland Union and Lithuanian Christian Democrats, TS-LKD, a Conservative MP now, was forced to make excuses after the ethics body ruled that he declared his Nissan car lease agreement too late.

It also turned out thatKubilius has leased his Nissan car from a company that had made pecuniary donations to the Conservatives Party when he stood at its helm. The MP excused himself that he was not aware of the fact and chalked the later than required execution of his duty up to absentmindedness.

MPs may see their mandates revoked

However, the troubles of other two MPs, Mindaugas Bastys, a stalwart Social Democrat, and Gintaras Steponavičius, a big player among the Liberals, are far greater than those by Karbauskis and Kubilius.

This week, a parliamentary committee ruled that Bastys acted against the interests of the Lithuanian state by maintaining close and constant contacts with representatives of Russia’s state nuclear energy corporation Rosatom. The MP is a short step from seeing his parliamentary mandate revoked.  The Parliament has already stripped him of legal immunity amid the investigation.

The resolution to support the findings by the Committee on National Security and Defense (NSGK) garnered 93 MPs’ votes, while six were against and 16 abstained.

According to the conclusions, Bastys’ «close ties to former and current officers of Russian intelligence and security agencies, journalists close to the Kremlin and former and current members of the underworld pose a threat to national security.»

The panel also inferred that Bastys had acted as an intermediary for Rosatom and related companies and «sought to influence political processes and the top officials in Lithuania, who could change the geopolitical direction of Lithuania and cause damage to the Lithuanian state.»

The Seimas (Parliament) earlier this year spearheaded the embattled MP’s impeachment, but a special commission set up for this purpose has put its investigation on hold until the NSGK finishes its probe. The impeachment commission is expected to resume its operations thereafter.

Social Democrat denies accusations

Bastys has been denying all the accusations throughout the ordeal and even asked the Prosecutor General’s Office to meddle.

Specifically, the lawmaker’s troubles arise from his ties to Yevgeny Kostin, who is seen by Lithuanian intelligence as a representative of Rosatom, Russia’s state energy company, also to Piotr Voyeiko, a former KGB agent, Ernest Matskevich, a journalist of the Russian state channel RTR, and Saturnas Dubininkas, dubbed by media and law enforcement alike as a former Kaunas mafia leader.

Viktoras Pranckietis, the speaker of the Seimas, said that he had «no doubts» about the findings of the NSGK probe and has called on Bastys’ resignation, but the embattled lawmaker budges, insisting he has not done anything inappropriate.

Meanwhile, on the committee floor, the Social Democrats’ fraction stood up for Bastys, voting against approval of the NSGK conclusions.

«The political group has decided that it will not approve of these conclusions, because they are basically based on assumptions. We maintain that no investigation was carried out, which resulted in making the conclusions that we cannot approve,» Irena Šiaulienė, the LSDP group’s head, told reporters on Tuesday, April 18.

The Lithuanian Social Democratic Party (LSDP) is a junior partner in the ruling coalition.

Ambiguous liaisons with business mogul

On the Parliament Liberals’ aisle, Gintaras Steponavičius was forced to shake his head in disgrace this week after the country’s Prosecutor general Evaldas Pašilis excoriated him for a set of law infringements.

According to the chief law watchdog, the MP belonging to the Lithuanian Liberal Movement met with MG Baltic Vice-president Raimondas Kurlianskis several times to discuss illegal financing for his party and voted in favor of legislation benefiting the business group’s interests, thus undermining the authority of the Seimas and disgracing the name of a lawmaker.

He asked the parliament to strip the MP of his legal immunity over a possible abuse of powers.

In his address to the Seimas, Pašilis brought up two meetings between Steponavičius and Kurlianskis in 2015 and 2016 and two votes in the parliament.

According to the prosecutor general, Steponavičius and Kurlianskis agreed in later October  2015 that MG Baltic companies would transfer money into accounts of Laisves Studijų Centras (Centre for Liberty Studies), a think-tank linked to the Liberal Movement, and of the Steponavičius Support Foundation, thus illegally financing the party’s activities.

Following the meeting, Steponavičius allegedly voted in favor of amendments to the Law on Consumer Credit and abstained from voting on an Utena-Vilnius highway project, Pašilis claims.

The two also allegedly met in early 2016 and discussed details of illegal financing for the Liberal Movement. MG Baltic Media in February transferred 10,000 euros to Laisvės Studijų Centras and 5,000 euros to the support foundation, the prosecutor general said.

MP won’t step down amid scandal

Although the Parliamentspeaker called on Steponavičius to step down, but the legislator refused to do to and asked the parliament to lift his immunity as quickly as possible, which would enable him legislatively to defend himself.

The investigation against Steponavičius is part of a larger political corruption probe – Lithuanian law-enforcement last year brought suspicions against Eligijus Masiulis, a former chairman of the Liberal Movement, of accepting a bribe of over 100,000 euros from Kurlianskis in exchange for his political party’s favorable voting for the business group’s benefit.

MG Baltic has dismissed the suspicions as abuse by prosecutors of their rights and psychological pressure.

Steponavičius has dismissed the suspicions and called the Prosecutor general’s speech as «disgraceful», adding he had discussed an overall political situation, not specific votes with one of the MG Baltic chiefs.

Joining ranks outside Seimas

Kojala, of the EESC, noted that one parliamentarian of the new term  -Greta Kildišienė from the Lithuanian Farmers and Greens Union – has already been forced to resign amid the brouhaha in connection to the revelation that she had been caught stealing in one of her previous jobs. The probe also turned up that she used a luxurious car belonging to the party leader R. Karbauskis’ business holding for the parliamentary work.

«And to remind one, we have a couple of parliamentarians at least whose fate in the Seimas is clinging on a tiny hair. They are likely to join Kildišienė as another MPs forced out of the Seimas. So from that perspective, the start of the tenure is scandal-ridden. On the other hand, what we see happening can be seen as a sign of transparency – smut is being brought up and the legislators are dealing with it resolvedly,» the analyst underscored.

Ref: 111.111.103.4512


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