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Sunday 22.10.2017 | Name days: Irīda, Īrisa
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Week in Lithuania. Suspicions brought against Lithuania's MG Baltic

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The Lithuanian Special Investigation Service (STT) has brought suspicions of influence peddling and bribery against MG Baltic, one of the largest concerns in Lithuania operated by Darius Mockus, STT chief Saulius Urbanavičius announced.

«Officers of the Special Investigation Service have brought bribery and influence peddling suspicions against a legal entity – one of the largest concerns in Lithuania. The pre-trial investigation in the case of political corruption revealed sufficient factual data for reasonable suspicions that the legal entity committed criminal deeds – influence peddling and bribery,» the SIS said in a press release.

Last year, Lithuanian law-enforcement opened a probe into influence peddling and bribery following the detention of the Liberal Movement’s former leader Eligijus Masiulis. He is suspected of taking a bribe of over 100,000 euro from MG Baltic vice-president Raimondas Kurlianskis for the political party’s operations for the benefit of the business group.

The Special Investigation Service also said it suspected Kurlianskis of attempted bribery of the Labour Party via its member Vytautas Gapšys into working for the concern’s benefit.

MG Baltic, which posts revenue of over 500,000 euro per year, is one of Lithuania’s largest groups operating alcohol, media, real estate, clothing retail, construction, logistics, information technologies and telecommunications businesses. In 2015, its revenue from sales totalled at 539 million euro, while net profits stood at 22.333 million euro, up by 66.1 percent from the year before.

Lithuania to complete pension system reform by late 2019

The Lithuanian government led by Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis intends to make the first decisions in connection to restructuring of the pension system in the nearest future, while implementation of all reforms may take until the end of 2019, according to the measures of the government plan published on Thursday, March 2.

In the first quarter of this year, the debt of the state-run social insurer Sodra should be moved to the state treasury. The Sodra debt stood at 3.894 billion euro at the end of 2016, including 3.593 billion euro in loans provided by the government.

Other tasks for this quarter also include approval of the make-up and management requirements for the Sodra reserve fund, which has not yet been started. The reserve fund’s share for pensions is expected to be at least 400 million euro by 2020. The bulk of pension reforms are scheduled for next year. The government of Skvernelis expects the proposed measures would allow raising the average old-age pensions by 27.5 per cent by 2020, in light of the growing economy and salary fund.

State Defence Council’s proposal on GDP for defence in 2018

The Lithuanian State Defence Council on Tuesday, February 28, suggested earmarking more than 2 per cent of the gross domestic product (GDP) for defence next year.

Labour Party loses over 1,000 members in half-year

The Labour Party has lost over 1,000 members over the past six months, which is the biggest loss among all political parties of Lithuania. The party saw a crushing defeat in the general election last October. According to data provided by the Justice Ministry, the Labour Party had 19,593 members on March 1 this year, down by 1,066 members from 20,659 on October 1 of 2016. Širvintos District Mayor  Živile Pinskuvienė is the Labour party’s new leader.

A considerable number of members, over 800, was lost by another underperformer in the 2016 elections, the Social Democratic Party. It declared having 20,389 members in March, down from 21,201 last October. The Order and Justice party lost more than 400 members and now has 12,464 members, membership of the opposition Homeland Union – Lithuanian Christian Democrats (conservatives) was almost unchanged at almost 15,000 members. The ruling Lithuanian Farmers and Green Union expanded by just over 100 members to the current 3,790. The opposition Liberal Movement now has 7,922 members and the Electoral Action of Poles in Lithuania – Union of Christian Families has 2,182.

Court wants department to decide Kurdish family’s fate

A Vilnius court has instructed the Migration Department to reconsider the asylum application from a Kurdish family. The decision was taken on Wednesday, March 1, after hearing of the plea filed by the Kurdish family from Iraq. Under the decision taken by the Migration Department last October, the Kurdish group had to be sent back to Iraq without getting an asylum, a refugee status or additional protection.

German, Lithuanian ministers do not want major EU disunity

The foreign ministers of Lithuania and Germany, Linas Linkevičius and Frank-Walter Steinmeier, say that discussions of the idea of «a multiple-speed» European Union (EU), it is necessary to prevent major gaps among countries, as only a unified Europe can retain its influence on the global arena. The ministers spoke a few hours after European Commission (EC) President Jean-Claude Juncker presented five scenarios of EU future after Britain’s exit from the community last Wednesday, March 1.

Lithuania advised to improve tax collection figures

European Commission (EC) Vice-President Valdis Dombrovskis has stated in Vilnius that Lithuania should give up some value-added tax (VAT) privileges amid projected growth of state spending, as well as improve the collection of VAT and residents’ income tax. He also stressed the substantial progress made by Lithuania in the implementation of earlier EU recommendations. In his words, income inequality in Lithuania is among the biggest in the EU, and the gap could be bridged by a more efficient tax privilege system.

President asks EC for reservation on social model

Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaitė has asked the European Commission (EC) to apply a reserve clause for the country to be able to have a bigger deficit of public finance during implementation of a structural reform – the new social model. Grybauskaitė stated the position at a meeting in Vilnius on Friday, March 3, with EC Vice-President Valdis Dombrovskis in charge of the euro, social dialogue, financial stability, financial services and capital market union. During the meeting, the head of state also emphasized that the social model being implemented in Lithuania was an important structural reform, which should be subject to a reserve clause in the assessment of Lithuania’s fiscal discipline, the President’s Office said in a press release. Total costs of the social model should be at 0.5 percent of the GDP in 2017. The structural government sector deficit, excluding the social model costs, should be lower than the 2016 deficit this year.

Foreign minister speaks with US Secretary of State

Washington sees Lithuania’s efforts of boosting its own and regional security, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said in a telephone conversation with Lithuania’s Foreign Minister Linas Linkevičius on Thursday, March 2. During the conversation, Tillerson invited Linkevičius to meet in Washington and join the meeting of ministers of the coalition fighting against the Islamic State group.

Lithuania wants joint acquisitions of medicine

Lithuania’s Health Care Minister Aurelijus Veryga attended an informal meeting of health ministers of the Visegrad countries, Croatia, Lithuania and Slovenia during March 2-3, hoping to agree on joint acquisition of medications. Central and Eastern European countries are faced with the same problem of high prices for pharmaceutical products, therefore, the participants of the meeting intend to sign a multilateral memorandum on cooperation in fair pricing of medication by setting affordable prices. Lina Bušinskaitė-Šriubiėnė, the Lithuanian minister’s spokeswoman, said that Lithuania expected the planned memorandum to first of all facilitate purchase of expensive patented medication.

Government wants online voting by 2020

Lithuania’s government announced plans on Thursday, March 2, to introduce online voting by the end of its 2016-2020 term in office. Justice Vice-Minister Justas Pankauskas says that the most realistic plan is that online voting would be introduced during the 2020 parliamentary elections, with a slightly smaller probability of having the opportunity during the 2019 elections for president, local governments and the European Parliament. The government forecasts that a fifth of the electorate could vast their votes online in 2020. Lithuania’s parliament has been discussing online voting initiatives since 2007.

Ex-presidents of Central, Eastern Europe to meet in Kaunas

An international Baltic – Black Sea Forum will take place in Kaunas, Lithuania, on March 10, bringing together historic leaders of Central and Eastern European countries, Lithuania’s Vytautas Magnus University said. The topic of the Kaunas forum is Europe Today, the Baltic Consensus (1987–1991): Historic Significance and Lessons for Today. Among the expected participants of the form are Lithuania’s former president Valdas Adamkus, the country’s first post-independence leader Vytautas Landsbergis, former Ukrainian presidents Viktor Yushchenko, Leonid Kravchyuk and Leonid Kuchma, former Polish president Bronislaw Komorowski, former Moldovan president Petru Lucinski, former Estonian president Arnold Ruutel, former Bulgarian president Petar Stojanov, former Slovak president Rudolf Schuster, former Latvian president Valdis Zatlers and former Russian state secretary Gennady Burbulis.

Lithuania funds UN High Commissioner for Refugees

The Foreign Ministry has said it earmarked 20,000 euro to the humanitarian efforts of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Founded in 1950, the bureau is in charge of refugee issues and humanitarian aid to them. This year, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) will provide assistance to countries faced with political and security challenges, assisting in registration and documentation processes, efforts to ensure protection of children, old people and people with disabilities, as well as prevention of sexual assaults.

Germany’s minister awarded high state decoration

President Dalia Grybauskaitė on Thursday, March 2, presented Germany’s Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen with the Grand Cross of the Order for Merits to Lithuania for personal support to the development of relations between Lithuania and Germany as well as for her contribution to strengthening bilateral military cooperation. The solemn ceremony was followed by a bilateral meeting, where the Lithuanian president and the German minister discussed further measures to enhance NATO’s defence posture. In Grybauskaitė’s, the ongoing geopolitical tension and threats posed by Russia will make the year ahead difficult. The exercise Zapad 2017 planned by Russia along the borders of the Baltic States increases the risk of possible military provocations.

Lithuanians advised to make additional contributions

Lithuanian residents who are expected to have the lowest old-age pensions will be advised to make additional contributions to their pension fund or return to the state-run social insurer Sodra, says Finance Minister Vilius Šapoka. In his words, preparatory work should be started this year, with the changes launched in 2018. The possibility for second phase participants to return to the Sodra was mentioned by the finance minister and Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis last December.

At the end of 2016, Lithuania had 21 second phase pension funds, accumulating pensions for 1.255 million participants, indicating an increase by 41,000 or 3.38 per cent year-on-year.

National Stadium concession tender to be extended

Three consortia of companies have applied for construction and management concession of the nearly 90 million euro National Stadium in Vilnius, with a decision on the fourth one yet to be made, Remigijus Šimašius, mayor of the Lithuanian capital, said. Lithuania’s chief public procurement watchdog says that the service had given a green light to the deadline extension for the fourth participant to be able to apply. Two of the consortia, KDS group with Poland’s Budimex and Icor concern have officially confirmed having applied for the tender. The tender also includes a Turkish company, as well as the Italian participant that has failed to submit its application yet. The concession contract with the investor will be signed for 25 years. The construction of the stadium is estimated at 88.5 million euro (including VAT), including 33.6 million euro in EU money. The complex should feature at least three football fields, an athletics stadium, sports facilities, a cultural education centre and a kindergarten.

Social insurer postpones recovery of fees

After waiting for documents from emigrants about compulsory health insurance fees paid in foreign countries, the Lithuanian state-run social insurer, Sodra, has so far failed to check all documents and will postpone the recovery until the end of March, says Sodra chief Mindaugas Sinkevičius. Amid anxiety among the population, mainly migrants, about mass warnings about unpaid health insurance fees, Sodra has decided to postpone the recovery for at least a month. In the chief’s words, specialists of the institution have already checked about 20,000 documents from the beginning of the year, with about 10,000 applications still pending. After the reminders to pay up their health insurance fees, more than 30,000 documents and about 2.2 million euro in fees over January.

Programme for Jewish heritage maintenance proposed

Diana Varnaitė, director of the Lithuanian Cultural Heritage Department, has proposed envisaging separate funding of maintenance of the Jewish heritage, an idea supported by Parliamentary Speaker Viktoras Pranckietis.

Lithuania does not have a register listing all synagogues remaining in the country. In Varnaitė’s words, there are up to 10 Jewish temples in a very bad or emergency condition in Lithuania, some of them being prepared for renovation or already undergoing renovation.

Donor liver brought to Lithuania from Latvia

A donor liver was airlifted from Latvia to Lithuania on a military helicopter Mi-8 in early hours of Wednesday, March 1. A team of surgeons left the Vilnius University’s Santariškės Clinic on the helicopter at 5:55 p.m. (local time) on Tuesday. After receiving the donor liver, the surgeons returned to Vilnius at 2:55 a.m. an Wednesday and immediately started the transplantation in one of the operating theatres of the hospital. According to information provided by the National Transplant Bureau, this was not the first time Latvian doctors provide donor organs for Lithuanian recipients. Since 2010, two hearts, kidneys and livers have been received from the neighbouring state. The hearts were implanted in infants. This year, Lithuanian transplant surgeons already conducted 19 organ and tissue (retina) transplant surgeries. This was the first time the military helicopter assisted in the process.

US general calls on Russia for transparency during Zapad 2017 exercise

Lieutenant General Ben Hodges, commander of the United States Army Europe, has urged Russia to ensure transparency during the Zapad 2017 military exercise to be held near Lithuania’s border in September. In his words, this should help ease the concerns over the training. Speaking to journalists at the Lithuanian Defence Ministry on Wednesday, March 1, Hodges said Russia should invite a larger number of observers and media representatives to the exercise.

Court orders passport with w for poet Mickevičius’ descendant

Lithuania’s Supreme Administrative Court on Tuesday, February 28, instructed the migration authorities to issue a Lithuanian passport to Alexia Gorecki- Mickiewicz, great granddaughter of poet Adomas Mickevičius, with the original spelling of her first and last names on the main page of the passport. The letters w and x do not exist in the Lithuanian alphabet. In the hearings of the case, the court emphasized that the existing legal regulation and the doctrine of the Constitutional Court did not allow spelling of first and last names of Lithuanian citizens in non-Lithuanian characters only. On the other hand, the Supreme Administrative Court said it would not violate the Constitution to include the non-Lithuanian spelling of the names among other entries upon the person’s request. The plea to the court over the spelling of his underage daughter’s first and last names was filed by Mickevičius’ descendant Roman Gorecki-Mickiewicz.

Lithuania behind Latvia, Estonia on EU regions index

Lithuania is behind Latvia and Estonia on the latest competitiveness index of European Union (EU) regions, while in comparison to other similar EU regions, the county’s ratings are worse in terms of business development, health and infrastructure. According to the EU Regional Competitiveness Index published by the European Commission on Tuesday, Lithuania, as a region, scored 34.2 points out of 100 and ranked 194th among 263 regions. On this year’s index, Latvia secured 35.1 points and ranked 191st and Estonia got 53.9 points and was 141st. On the EU level, regions got an average of 55 points. As compared with other 15 regions with a similar gross domestic product (GDP) per capita, Lithuania ranks the worst in terms of business development (243rd), health (259th) and infrastructure (227th). Meanwhile, Lithuania came in relatively high in the category of higher education and life-long learning (79th).

Court upholds life sentence for Medininkai massacre perpetrator

An extended panel of judges of the Supreme Court of Lithuania on Tuesday, February 28, overruled the appeals filed by Konstantin Mikhailov, former OMON officer sentenced to life in the 1991 killing Lithuanian border guards and police officers at the Medininkai border checkpoint, and his defence lawyers. The seven Supreme Court judges endorsed the rulings of other courts, which have ruled that the Medininkai massacre was part of the Soviet policies to keep Lithuania in the Soviet Union. The Supreme Court said Mikhailov’s testimony that he was not involved in the killings was denied by evidence contained in the case. The verdict is final and not subject to appeals.

Lithuanian prosecutors have established that Mikhailov, being a member of the Soviet Interior Ministry’s special police unit OMON and acting as part of a squad organized by Cheslav Mlynik, together with other members of the squad, Andrei Laktionov and Alexander Ryzhov, intentionally killed Lithuanian customs and police officers Antanas Musteikis, Stanislavas Orlavičius, Ričardas Rabavičius, Algirdas Kazlauskas, Juozas Janonis, Algimantas Juozakas and Mindaugas Balavakas, and attempted to kill Tomas Šernas.

Former army officer, Russian citizen sentenced

A Šiauliai court on Tuesday, February 28, convicted former Lithuanian army officer and a Russian citizen on spying charges. Sergey Moiseyenko, 66-year-old Russian citizen, was sentenced to 10 years and six months in prison for espionage and unlawful possession of a large number of cartridges, explosives and grenades, while former Lithuanian Air Force Aviation Base officer, captain Sergejus Pusinas, 34, was sent to prison for five years, Vytautas Jončas, spokesman for the court, said.

The court announced that Pusinas between 2012 and the end of 2014 collected information for Moiseyenko about Lithuania’s Armed Forces and operations of NATO air-policing missions, locations of military capacities, military operations in Afghanistan, intelligence aircrafts operated from remote locations, their flights and possible stationing locations.

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