Lithuania has perhaps never seen this calibre political scandals like these ones grabbing the media headlines in recent weeks. First, the embattled former Liberals leader, Eligijus Masiulis, who is fighting influence peddling and corruption charges, made his personal correspondence with President Dalia Grybauskaitė public. The head-of-state goes as Tulip in the barrage of emails with Masiulis and the exchange reveals her heavy, some say, meddlesome engagement in the Lithuanian legislation.
In the wake, Lithuania‘s State Security Department (VSD) stepped in with a shocking statement: it appears that Lithuania‘s Liberal Movement, the country‘s only liberal party once chaired by Masiulis, has been a long-term project of the MG Baltic business group.
Fallout from the scandal can be overwhelming: there are calls already – so far, mostly in the internet, so be precise – to dismantle the party as illegitimate.
Whatever happens in the next weeks to come, the Liberal party is evidently in big trouble.
Meanwhile, Eugenijus Gentvilas, leader of Lithuania’s Liberal Movement, categorically rejects claims made the State Security Department’s report that the Liberal Movement was a long-term project of the MG Baltic business group.
«I categorically deny that the party was founded and that several thousand people joined it against their will but under somebody’s influence, by somebody’s order. The SSD should not say things like that,» Gentvilas told journalists at the parliament this week.
«They say our party was founded in 2006 as an MG Baltic project. I was living in Brussels at the time and had no links and joined this party, convinced that it would be an alternative to (former Vilnius Mayor) Arturas Zuokas’ party. And now they say that those two thousand people who founded the Liberal Movement, are an MG Baltic project,» he added.
In a report to the parliamentary Committee on National Security and Defence, which was on Monday, May 7, declassified as part of a probe into business groups’ influence on political processes, the SSD claims that «following the founding of the party, fully controlled by MG Baltic executives, the concern became the most influential business (influence) group in Lithuania in less than ten years».
The report also states that as MG Baltic sought to eliminate key competitors in the construction business in the Lithuanian capital, «a political» scenario was chosen to divide party led by Masiulis and establish a party which is in fact controlled by MG.
The Liberal Party was founded in 2006 when part of members of the Liberal and Centre Union, led by Zuokas, left the party or were sacked due to disputes with the party leader. Incumbent MEP Petras Auštrevičius was elected chairman of the new party.
What appears from the publicized correspondence, obtained by intelligence, MG Baltic has also exerted to influence the Social Democratic Party, attempting to bring Mindaugas Sinkevičius, the then Economy minister, Mindaugas Sinkevičius, to the chair post in the party.
To give their favourite an edge over his fierce rival , Gintautas Paluckas, who was eventually selected as the SD Party leader, MG Baltic allegedly tarnished his reputation by concocting a story about his brother, Danas Paluckas, being convicted for a misdemeanour in Italy many years ago.
With the news out, Danas Paluckas, who did not declare the supposed crime in his declaration of interests when seeking a seat of councilman of the Palanga Municipality in 2015, was stripped of the mandate, yet kept denying any wrongdoing throughout.
«I understand that the political life is merciless and the political nemesis resort to all the possible means to harm you, but the revelation that a major business holding sought to damage the election prospects of my bother THAT way is mind-boggling,» Danas Paluckas told BNN.
According to VSD, MG Baltic has zeroed in on 10 Lithuania ministries and 4 law enforcement institutions as its target of influence.
VSD claims that Lithuania’s former ministers, Conservative Andrius Kvsdubilius and Social Democrat Algirdas Butkevičius, were aware of the attempts of MG Baltic, however did not take action.
Both men are denying it, however, the Seimas is determined to launch an investigation into the circumstances.
In a blow to Lithuanian journalism, the State Security Department also claims in the report that journalist Tomas Dapkus, who worked for a TV channel owned by MG Baltics, served exclusively the interests the top executives of MG Baltic and his activities bear signs of blackmail.
According to the document, which was signed by VSD Director Darius Jauniškis, Dapkus became «an intermediary representing the interests of MG managers who not only establishes contacts with politicians and state officials, but also collects information useful for himself and for the group, later using it as a tool of manipulation and/or blackmail».
The document describes various political processes and situations in Vilnius’ local authority, Lietuvos Geležinkeliai, the State Tax Inspectorate, the Competition Council, and other authorities and organizations.
The intelligence says that in many cases it was done via an unnamed person with whom Dapkus has very close ties.
According to officials, MG Baltic and Dapkus were interested in an e-health project and took active efforts to control the situation in the Centre of Registers.
Dapkus’ plans in the IT sector are allegedly linked to an unnamed person active in that business area. That person maintains close contacts not only with the journalist, but also with the latter’s «intermediation partner», a former KGB officer. The intelligence say that these persons were linked by common commercial interests.
According to the document, activities by MG Baltic’s people pose a threat to national security in that they can destabilize the democratic political system.
In defence, MG Baltic says that the report of intelligence on the MG Baltic business group’s influence on political processes in Lithuania is aimed at making «direct influence» on judges who are about to hear a political corruption case involving MG Baltic.
«Responding to the State Security Department’s published information, MG Baltic states that such action taken at a time when the hearing of the criminal case begins amounts to direct influence on the judges who will hear the case, therefore, the defendants can no longer expect a fair and impartial trial,» the statement reads.
MG Baltic President Darius Mockus, quoted in the statement, says the SSD report to lawmakers is «a mixture of opinions and assumptions».
Tadas Marčiukaitis, spokesman for MG Baltic, said the concern would take legal action to defend its rights.
The hearing of a political corruption case involving the Labour Party and the Liberal Movement, MG Baltic as well as existing and former Labour Party and Liberal Movement leaders and members should start later this year.
Although only the name of MG Baltic has been brought up so far, Lithuanian PM Saulius Skvernelis hinted that «more than one company» is mentioned in the State Security Department’s (VSD) report.
«I believe that the people of Lithuania do have the right to know everything that has happened in Lithuania over the last couple of decades. This is why that investigation was started at the committee,» Skvernelis said on LRT Radio.
The prime minister added that he receives information from VSD, but knows nothing about the committee’s findings, adding that he is in favour of declassifying these findings.
Meanwhile, President Grybauskaitė noted that the replacement of certain heads of law enforcement and intelligence institutions before 2016 has led to a more drastic and effective fight against corrupt interest groups’ influence on political processes in Lithuania.
In an interview with the Lithuanian Radio on Tuesday, May 8, the president said she had been informed about possible signs of corruption and illicit influence on the political system. But, Grybauskaitė stressed, «knowing the fact is not enough as you need evidence for a case and a pre-trial investigation to be launched, and law enforcement and intelligence institutions’ courage and ability is needed for that, which we have seen since the start of 2016».
Grybauskaitė appointed Darius Jauniškis to head the State Security Department in 2015, and Evaldas Pašilis was appointed in late 2015 to head the Prosecutor General’s Office.