Political scandal in Lithuania

Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaitė has assumed this week a role that is downright uncharacteristic to her – that of defence. A set of screenshots of the correspondence between her and Eligijus Masiulis, the former Liberals leader, who is now fighting corruption, bribe and influence peddling charges, has everyone talking in the country about her.

The Lithuanian head-of-state, who is dubbed in the foreign media the tough Magnolia, has chosen the name of other flower, tulip in the barrage of e-mails. It was the daily Lietuvos Rytas that published the extracts from the tulpes@lrpk.lt e-mail box, supposedly belonging to the President. The e-mails are said to have been written in 2014-2016.

In them, the President and Masiulis discussed candidates for prosecutor general. Grybauskaitė wrote to Masiulis that LNK TV channel’s journalist Tomas Dapkus «speaks nonsense» about Evaldas Pašilis, the PG candidate backed by the President’s Office, and even suggested «giving regards» to Darius Mockus, head of MG Baltic group that owns the TV channel, «to take his hound away». By hound Grybauskaitė meant the journalist.

In an e-mail sent before the 2016 Seimas elections, Grybauskaitė writes that future Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis «is already a dangerous populist, and things will get worse at high speed». She called on Masiulis to convince then ruling Social Democrats that Skernelis «should not become minister if he leaves for a non-coalition party».

During the scandal over the so-called «blacklist» of vice-ministers, the president encouraged Masiulis to take advantage of her conflict with then Social Democrat Algirdas Butkevičius’ government.

«Such a reckless confrontation will knock their ratings down and also strengthen the suspicion of non-transparency ahead the upcoming elections. Take advantage of that», the president wrote.

The presidential office has refused to comment on the e-mail extracts and their authenticity.

In an interview to the national broadcaster LRT, Grybauskaitė did not deny having had e-mail exchanges with Masiulis, but emphasised that she cannot confirm the authenticity of letters published in the media.

«I can’t confirm the authenticity. Because we checked the servers and everything: we didn’t save them. That’s one thing. Another thing is that even if the text were similar (to the authentic one) — and it may be similar in places, because it’s a fact that there have been and there will be letter exchanges between politicians and myself and I’ll explain a little later why,» Grybauskaitė said.

Grybauskaitė says that she was not surprised at this information being made public at a time when the «historic» corruption case went to court, adding that the defence is bound to use various means.

«I’m not surprised that such things are starting to appear in the press. And the goal apparently is to pit politicians against each other, to take revenge, and at the same time politicise the case. This has been done (in the past) by other oligarchs and companies (in) the Snoras case (and) the Labour Party case. We have many other cases, including (that of) Order and Justice,» Grybauskaitė said.

«The defence resorts to any means. And this proves once again that this is a serious case and their behaviour is desperate,» she added.

The president says that she has a direct duty to communicate with lawmakers «on both laws and reforms and on individual appointments».

Grybauskaitė said that she has «always supported investigative journalists, those who defend human rights — this is the foundation of the state».

«Unfortunately, there are journalists who become instruments or representatives of interest groups, who become lobbyists and so on. I can’t regard those who cross the boundaries of professional ethics (as journalists)», she said.

Meanwhile, Masiulis confirmed he had received the president’s e-mails from the tulpes@lrpk.lt e-mail account and said he and the president had «close working and personal relations in the political field».

Commenting on the e-mails, Masiulis criticised prosecutor Justas Laucius work, saying he was surprised that the prosecutor had promised to discuss the e-mails during interrogation and later did not do that. Masiulis said he asked for the e-mails to be included into the case documents but the prosecutor rejected his request.

The e-mails may do damage to Grybauskaitė with the ruling parties in the Seimas considering launching a parliamentary probe into coordination regarding candidates for prosecutor general.

Agnė Širinskienė, she chairwoman of the Lithuanian parliament’s Committee on Legal Affairs (CLA) says that President Dalia Grybauskaitė’s comments on her e-mail exchanges with Eligijus Masiulis leave many unanswered questions about the contents of these letters and could be the subject of a parliamentary investigation.

«I think we’ll discuss our possible steps within the (LFGU) political group first, but I’m not ruling out initiating an investigation,» she said.

The ruling LFGU Chairman Ramūnas Karbauskis says that it is necessary to find out if the e-mails published by the daily Lietuvos Rytas are authentic before launching a parliamentary investigation.

PM Saulius Skvernelis says that President Dalia Grybauskaitė’s e-mail exchanges with Eligijus Masiulis, a former Liberal Movement leader accused of corruption, should be looked at from a moral rather than a legal point of view.

«Impeachment is a legal process; legal circumstances should be considered. Based on the information given, it seems to me that this has more to do with morality and ethics,» he told reporters on Wednesday.

Skvernelis said that he discussed the scandal with Grybauskaitė during their meeting on Wednesday, but gave no details.

In his opinion, it is up to the Seimas to decide on initiatives to launch a parliamentary investigation into the president’s e-mails.

Viktoras Pranckietis, the speaker of the Seimas, said via his spokeswoman that he would not comment on the president’s comments on her e-mail exchanges with Masiulis.

Journalist Andrius Tapinas says the e-mails, if proved authentic, would mark «our head of state’s one of the major fiascos» and her statements on Dapkus could be considered «direct pressure on the media».

Speaking to BNN, Vytautas Dumbliauskas, associate professor of Mykolas Romeris University, noted that the leaked correspondence between Grybauskaitė and Masiulis is of «personal character.»

«Some of the expressions she uses in it does raise eyebrows, but this is how our President is: very blunt and straightforward. It would be quite strange if she did not exchange any e-mails with the party and parliamentary fraction leaders,» the analyst underscored to BNN.

He has no doubt that embattled Masiulis does all he can to reverse the attention from his high-profile corruption case and cast a shadow on the popular head-of-state, as if saying that even she is not speckless.

«What Masiulis did seems to me like an act of desperation. I don’t think it is very correct to do what he did (making the correspondence public),» associate professor suggested.

In his opinion, it is the ruling Peasants and Farmers, who have been lambasted by Grybauskaitė on several occasions lately, that win in the situation.

«Look, we even hear calls for a parliamentary investigation into the e-mails and some parliamentarians have hinted of impeachment, which is a preposterous idea. Yet it is evident that there will be a lot of bubbles following the revelation,» Dumbliauskas said.

According to him, with the e-mails up to everyone’s discussion, the stand-off between Grybauskaitė and the Parliament will linger for quite some time.

«Likely till her last day in office. Many in the highest echelons of power were afraid of her, but with her term in the presidential palace nearing to end, there will be more attempts to harm her,» the analyst emphasised. «There are many angry people around Grybauskaitė. She has never been a pleaser.»

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