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Lithuania’s ruling party leader Karbauskis and star TV producer Jakilaitis in feud

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Baltic news, News from Latvia, BNN.LV, BNN-NEWS.COM, BNN-NEWS.RU

Lithuania’s Peasant and Green’s Union party Chairman Ramunas Karbauskis speaks to the media

Linas Jegelevičius for the BNN

The ongoing feud between the Farmers and Greens Union (LFGU), Lithuania’s ruling party, and the Lithuanian Radio and Television(LRT) has become very personal this week with the party leader, Ramūnas Karbauskis, and Edmundas Jakilaitis, the star TV producer and the host of TV programme Dėmesio centre (In the Focus of Attention), trading barbs along the way.

The well-known TV journalist has recently exposed with the help of colleagues from the news portal a shady-looking scheme of large-scale land plot acquisitions by Karbauskis and his family members.  Lithuanian law has set a ceiling of 500 hectares that a single legal body can own in Lithuania, but Karbauskis is suspected of evading the legal obstacle by completing the purchases of land through his family members.

Amid the disclosure Karbauskis hurried to make respective amendments to his declaration of annual income. It appears the LFGU leader has not declared 3 million euros he had given to his sons, who later bought new land plots for the money.

A prosecutorial investigation into the circumstances of the land sale deals has been begun following the revelation. The LFGU leader, however, maintains his innocence and insists that all the deals are transparent.

The latest eye-to-eye encounter between Karbauskis and Jakilaitis took place this Wednesday, January 24, in the Seimas (Lithuanian Parliament), where the LFGU leader was holding a press conference and gave a sneak peek into the findings of the ongoing LFGU-led investigation into the financial documents of the LRT.

Having popped up in it right before its start, Jakilaitis accosted Karbauskis with a blunt question on the land acquisitions and the involvement of Karbauskis’ family members in them.

The LFGU chairman was trying to keep cool, but was visibly irritated, however.

Waving a stack of documents in his hands, he insisted while Jakilaitis was interrupting him that a parliamentary scrutiny of the finances of the Lithuanian Radio and Television was «necessary and inevitable» because of the «chaotic» way in which the public broadcaster provided its answers to lawmakers’ inquiries.

«The Seimas members’ decision to form a commission to scrutinize LRT’s financial activities is necessary and inevitable. The material the Seimas members received from the LRT Council is provided in a completely chaotic way. There are no descriptions and no contracts, and some cost estimates are not provided, even though the producer’s consent to provide that information was received,» Karbauskis reiterated his stance.

«The messy way in which the documents were provided point to a possible mess in the handling of LRT documents, too,» he accentuated.

Karbauskis insisted, however, that the parliamentary scrutiny was not aimed at interfering into media work. Pointing at some of the obtained documents, he said that he was exposing their shortcomings in order to prevent «further discussions about politics being done here».

He also noted that the LRT Council failed to provide some of the information the parliamentarians had requested, citing confidentiality clauses in its contracts as the reason, and that the answers it did give require detailed analysis.

Prior, Karbauskis and Agne Širinskienė, a lawmaker of the ruling Lithuanian Farmers and Greens Union (LFGU), who is seen as the prime confidante of the LFGU leader, alleged that Jakilaitis’ TV production firm had ostensibly pocketed thousands of euros of public money through a possibly shady scheme. Jakilaitis has denied it throughout.

Amid the bickering, the Lithuanian State Tax Inspectorate, or VMI, has taken administrative action against Jakilaitis following an inquiry byŠirinskienė.

The tax authority told Širinskiene in its response letter, posted by the parliamentarian on her Facebook page, that it had taken «a decision to initiate administrative action» against Jakilaitis.

Jakilaitis considers this as an effort to put pressure on him for his criticism, but Širinskienė, who heads the parliament’s Committee on Legal Affairs, dismisses such allegations, saying that what she asked VMI was to examine, in an objective manner, data on the journalist’s business activities.

VMI spokesman Laimonas Rimkus said he could not specify what kind of administrative action the authority had taken against Jakilaitis. The journalist claimed that he had not yet received any notification from VMI.

«I hope this is merely a letter of politeness to Mrs. Širinskienė, because otherwise it would be direct evidence that the chairwoman of the Seimas Committee on Legal Affairs can set a state authority on journalists,» he said.

Širinskienė says that she turned to the tax authority after receiving information on possible tax irregularities by Jakilaitis.

«If a journalist commits an irregularity, he is responsible like any other citizen of the Republic of Lithuania,» she was quoted as saying.

The lawmaker wrote to VMI in early January to inform it that Jakilaitis could have failed to notify the authority about his new activity of organizing training and to ask whether the journalist had paid taxes on this activity. Jakilaitis insist reporting all of his income.

Few hesitate; however, that behind Širinskienė’s decicions stands the party’s leader, Karbauskis.

The parliamentary investigation into the LRT was kickstarted with the support of by 59 of Lithuania’s 141 parliamentarians, with 18 votes against and no abstentions.

Few doubt, however, that the rift between the LFGU heads and the LRT goes beyond the personality of Jakilaitis, who is seen as an intrepid and smart journalist.

The rumours are that Karbauskis’ is deeply dissatisfied how the LRT covers the LFGU, its activity and him personally.

The parliamentary commission has been authorized to check the 2016 report submitted by the LRT council by June 1 and verify whether the LRT management structure, the number of employees, the size of their salaries, the ratio between LRT shows, shows authored by LRT in cooperation with production companies or independent producers and production companies and independent producers only facilitates rational use of money of the state budget and is in accordance with the existing market conditions in Lithuania.

The commission will see whether the LRT management structure, its functions and division of competences is in line with the European practices of national broadcasters and ensure transparent LRT operations and proper conditions for implementation of condition for national broadcaster.

The MPs will also verify whether the governmental resolution, which has been unchanged for 15 years, did not allow lack of transparency in procurement procedures, facilitating corruption environment and avoidance of public procurement procedures by LRT. Furthermore, the commission has been authorized to establish whether the prices of services paid by LRT to producers is in line with market conditions, etc.

Audrius Siaurusevičius, the director general of Lithuanian Radio and Television (LRT), has said repeatedly throughout the scandal that plans by Ramūnas Karbauskis, the leader of the ruling Lithuanian Farmers and Greens Union (LFGU), to make public LRT documents made available to lawmakers prove that the politician seeks to control the public broadcaster.

Meanwhile, Žygintas Peciulis, chairman of the council of the Lithuanian national broadcaster LRT, warned that information submitted to Lithuanian parliamentarians may contain shortcomings, as the parliament was requesting too many documents within an excessively short period of time.

Speaking to BNN, Dainius Radzevičius, chairman of the Union of Lithuanian journalists, emphasised that he was willing to sit on the fence amid the dispute.

«The lawmakers say they want more transparency as to how the public money is used by the LRT and the latter wants independence from the politicians. I believe that, upon the circumstances, law on The Lithuanian Radio and Television needs to be amended, embedding more safeguards for the LRT and more provisions of the LRT accountability,» Radzevičius told BNN.

However, the Seimas has shown no will to go over the law, he added.

Ref: 020/

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  1. Jack says:

    buying up land through his family members to evade law? seems like another scammer!

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