Lithuanian president: Health minister ‘can’t stay away’ during coronavirus procurement investigation

Lithuania’s Health Minister Aurelijus Veryga has drawn criticism from the president for taking a break while his deputy is investigated for a suspected abuse of office in a 6-million-euro coronavirus tests deal.

“In our opinion, Minister Veryga can’t stay away. He has to give his explanation, his take on the situation,” Darius Kuliešius, an adviser to President Gitanas Nausėda, told reporters on Tuesday.

Veryga is on vacation until mid-August.

“The minister has the duty to manage the risks that arise in his sector,” he added.

Kuliešius spoke to reporters after President Nausėda met with officials from the National Audit Office, the Special Investigation Service (STT) and the Public Procurement Office to discuss risks involved in pandemic-related public procurements and state aid to businesses.

The Financial Crime Investigation Service (FNTT) is currently investigating a 6-million-euro purchase of rapid coronavirus tests and has said that Vice Minister of Health Lina Jaruševičienė is suspected of abusing her office.

In a separate probe, the Special Investigation Service (STT) is looking into a 5-million-euro deal of purchasing coronavirus testing reagents. Šarūnas Narbutas, until recently the president of the Lithuanian Cancer Patient Coalition (POLA) who mediated between the government and the suppliers, is suspected of influence peddling.

The STT has questioned Health Minister Veryga, Deputy Health Minister Kristina Garuolienė, Government Chancellor Algirdas Stoncaitis and Government Chancellor Lukas Savickas as part of the probe.

Both purchases were made by the National Public Health Surveillance Laboratory whose director, Vytautas Zimnickas, passed away several weeks ago.

Kuliešius said that the president would not comment on ongoing investigations.

“The president doesn’t give judgements on specific investigations. This will be done by a court,” he said. “Today we talked today about systemic risks and the necessary recommendations that all contracting parties should follow.”

LRT.LT

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