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Sunday 23.09.2018 | Name days: Vanda, Veneranda, Venija
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Lithuania paves way for special prosecutors in political corruption cases

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Linas Jegelevičius for the BNN

The Lithuanian legislature, Seimas, has voted with support of 78 MPs, four against and 22 abstentions for a set of amendments to the Law on the Public Prosecutor’s Office. The changes envision that, starting from July 2018, political corruption cases in Lithuania will be investigated by prosecutors with special powers and immunity and all prosecutors will get a pay raise from mid-2018.

Political corruption spans corruption crimes committed by the heads of public authorities, politicians and judges.

The amended law stipulates that special prosecutors will enjoy higher protection than their colleagues, including immunity from criminal prosecution, and will report directly to the Prosecutor General, the deputy Prosecutor General or the head of a department of the Prosecutor General’s Office. Special prosecutors will also be paid extra for their work.

The amendments were passed amid prosecutors’ growing dissatisfaction with what they believe is their insufficient legal protection in cases involving legal immunity holding high-ranking suspects.

Prosecutors have long clamoured for higher salaries and threatened to leave prosecution offices if their demands are not satisfied.

«Today we are waiting for adoption of the law amendments. Depending upon the MPs’ voting, we will decide whether to remain in the prosecutorial system or not,» Gintas Ivanauskas, prosecutor from the Prosecutor’s General office addressed the Seimas’ Law Committee members before the voting.

With the sweeping support in the Seimas for the prosecutors’ demands, Milda Vainiūtė, Justice Minister rejoiced that the amended law will be a «necessary tool» in fighting corruption in the country.

The amended law foresees though that prosecutors have to agree to take on status of special prosecutor. Only Prosecutor General would be entitled to grant it or annul it.

A series of factors, including the prosecutor’s skills, experience, specialisation and perseverance in high-profile cases, will be considered when granting it.

«When case is in court, no prosecutor requires any protection, as the law and the case itself protects him. However, problems emerge with the litigation over-no prosecutor can be sure thathe or she will not be dismissed or that not fail the certification,» Artūras Urbelis, prosecutor, said.

A couple of high-profile political corruption scandals have rattled Lithuania over the couple of last years.

In late September, Lithuania’s Special investigation service (STT) have brought suspicions of corruption against Lithuania’s Liberal Movement and the Labour party.

According to STT, the Liberal Movement is suspected of wide scale bribery and influence peddling.

The Special Investigation Service alleges the party’s chairman Eligijus Masiulis has taken a bribe of more than 100,000 euros on behalf of the party from Raimondas Kurlianskis, vice president of MG Baltics, a mega-size Lithuanian company, in exchange for political decisions.

In response, the party’s leaders called the suspicions to the party unjustified and politically motivated.

This week, Vilnius prosecutors have sent the country’s Central Electoral Commission some new information about suspected illegal funding of the Lithuanian Liberal Movement’s parliamentary election campaign, the Prosecutor General’s Office.

The news release comes as a pre-trial investigation in the political corruption case is drawing to a close.

Law-enforcement officials say they have established that the Liberals’ 2016 election campaign was partially financed from funds of Laisvės Studijų Centras (Centre for Liberty Studies), a think-tank whose founders include the Liberal Movement’s former leader Eligijus Masiulis and his deputy Gintaras Steponavičius, but give no details.

Officials earlier this year provided the Central Electoral Commission with some information amid suspicions that the Liberal Movement’s campaign might have been funded through a training course organized for the party’s members by Taikomosios Politikos Institutas (Institute of Applied Politics). The election watchdog subsequently deprived the party of a six-month state grant of almost 400,000 euros for grossly violating the funding rules.

In May 2016, the Lithuanian Labour Party’s First Vice-Chairman Vytautas Gapšys was charged with corruption accusations following a search of his home and office at parliament by the Lithuanian Special Investigation Service, STT.

The agency said it suspected the afore-mentioned Kurlianskis of influencing members of the ruling Labour Party, via Gapšys, to work for the benefit of the concern in exchange for bribes. Kurlianskis was detained but was freed over the course.

Amid suspicions of bribery and influence peddling in Lithuania’s largest case of political corruption, Kurlianskis, who is also board chairman of LNK group and MG Baltic Media, announced earlier this week resignation from the concern and plans to sell 2.34 percent of MG Baltic Investment shares to Mockus, the chief shareholder, and leave all positions in the concern by January 1, 2018.

Kurlianskis said the decision was due to the need to focus on the upcoming judicial proceedings.

Although residents of Lithuania still think that many areas in the country are badly affected by corruption, the past few years marked a significant decline in the number of cases they faced corruption, shows the latest Eurobarometre survey released this month,

According to the Eurobarometre survey, 24 percent of those polled in Lithuania specified that corruption had an impact on their daily life, however, merely 8 percent said they had seen or faced any cases of corruption over the past year, which is a decline by 17 percentage points from 2013 – this is the sharpest change in the European Union (EU).

Notably, merely 19 percent of Lithuanians said financing of political parties was transparent, which is the 6th lowest figure across the EU.

At 34 percent, Lithuanians were also the top EU nation to say they knew someone who had accepted a bribe.

Asked to specify the areas that they thought featured corruption, many Lithuanians mentioned the health care sector (79 per cent), political parties (64 per cent) and officials issuing construction permits (61 per cent).

Meanwhile, the majority of Lithuanian companies think that corruption is wide-spread in Lithuania, but only one-fifth of them consider it to be a problem when doing business, showed another latest Eurobarometre survey released in December.

Eighty percent of companies surveyed in Lithuania say that corruption is widespread in their country, compared with 76 percent in Latvia and 52 percent in Estonia.

Ref: 111.111.111.5383


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