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Major political corruption case reaches court in Lithuania

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Linas Jegelevičius for the BNN

A major political corruption case with involving MG Baltic, one of Lithuania’s largest business groups, and two political parties, the Liberal Movement (LM) and the Labour Party (LP), has reached Lithuanian court this week.

The authorities suspect that Raimondas Kurlianskis, one of the MG Baltic executives, aimed to secure decisions through Eligijus Masiulis, the-then Liberals’ leader, and Vytautas Gapšys, the deputy chairman of the Labour Party, that would benefit the company from the adoption of the bill on consumer loan, the parliamentary resolution on private-public sector partnership in reconstruction of Vilnius-Utena highway and influence on other decisions.

According to the suspicions, Kurlianskis aimed to influence politicians in connection to some key appointments – Gapšys was given bribes for a pledge to influence a decision to leave Stasys Dailydka, then CEO of the state-run railway company Lietuvos Geležinkeliai, in post for another term, as well as a pledge to influence members of the political group when deciding on the results of public procurement deals at the Ignalina nuclear power plant.

Back in the spring of 2016, Eligijus Masiulis, the chairman of the LS, was caught in his car at Lithuanian Parliament with over 100,000 euros in cash stuffed in a bottle box. The money that had been purposefully marked by the investigators. The bribe was paid to him by Kurlianskis, a vice-chairman of MG Baltic. More cash was found Masiulis’s home raided by Lithuania’s Special investigation service (STT) and the police.

In the wake of the scandal, Masiulis resigned as leader of the LS and gave up his parliamentary seat. A few weeks later Gapšys, the-then member of the coalition government, was also questioned about bribery allegations involving MG Baltic, and had his home and office were also searched by law enforcement officers.

The political corruption case involving MG Baltic, the Liberal Movement and the Labour Party was opened Wednesday, April 18. In the words of the prosecutors, the pre-trial investigation was «extremely» extensive, including 108 volumes of materials and 450 pages of indictment.

Ramūnas Lukošius, chief of the Pre-Trial Investigation Division of the Vilnius Board of the Special Investigation Service (STT), told Lithuanian media that the probe revealed a scheme of political corruption.

«We managed to disclose facts in the criminal sense and the general political sense in connection to not individual cases of political corruption – we’re talking about a corruption system, which entails political leaders and casts a shadow on other persons who are not suspects in the case but their names are listed,» said Lukošius.

In his words, the investigation showed that business figures aiming for favourable decisions «made every possible effort via their representative to bribe politicians, influence their decisions and people who make the decisions at the top level.»

Ahead of the court sitting, ex-MP Eligijus Masiulis held a news conference to comment on the charges against him. He reiterated his innocence and claimed that the case was politically charged.

He insisted that the bribe he is charged with taking from Kurlianskis was merely a loan for investing in real estate, adding he had paid the loan back.

«I was convinced… that everything would be established fairly and that I would be notified that the suspicions against me had been dropped, although I understand that the decision takes courage. Unfortunately, I was very wrong, today I face charges,» Masiulis underscored.

In his words, studying the case materials revealed the facts «that prosecutors attempted to scandalously conceal and continue to ignore the best they can.»

As part of the pre-trial investigation, prosecutors questioned more than 150 individuals, including over 50 members of the current and former parliaments, a few former ministers and members of the European Parliament. A total of 200 interrogations were conducted in addition to 30 searches.

Prosecutors say the physical entities face the maximum jail term of up to eight years in prison, while the legal entities may face liquidation, restriction of operations or a fine of up to 1.9 million euros.

The prosecutors rejected the allegations by MG Baltic president Darius Mockus about the case being politicised, emphasising that the statements «were not based on facts.»

Law-enforcement officers found a loan agreement concluded with Kurlianskis in his car on May 10 2016 and filmed it, said Masiulis, adding that the document was not seized 30 minutes later and excluded from the case.

«The scandalous conduct by prosecutors astonishes me and shows one fact – things that do not come in handy to prosecutors and that destroy charges… are deliberately ignored,» he added.

The former politician said that the 90,000 euros seized from his car were a loan from Kurlianskis, «the most stupid act in life.»

Masiulis, however, rejected the charges of political corruption.

«Political corruption should have a clear logic – there is some payment for something. I clearly state that I did not see the logic in the materials that I read,» he stated.

STT also claims 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 provided no details.

The Centre had received funding from MG Baltic on several occasions.

Amid suspicions of bribery and influence peddling in Lithuania’s largest case of political corruption, Kurlianskis, who was also board chairman of LNK group and MG Baltic Media, announced resignation from the concern and sold its 2.34 per cent stake of MG Baltic Investment shares to Mockus, the chief shareholder.

To bolster fight against political corruption in the country, the Lithuanian legislature, Seimas, has passed 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 are investigated by prosecutors with special powers and immunity.


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