President Dalia Grybauskaitė believes that law enforcement must carefully consider, what classified data to declassify and the Seimas committee must carefully consider its conclusions because this report will most likely play a role in the court proceedings for Eligijus Masiulis, who may have taken “a bribe in a box.”
State Security Department (VSD) reports, revealing the influence of business on politicians and law enforcement, on why the Seimas National Security and Defence Committee (NSGK) is most useful to the ruling “Farmers“, about “regurgitating information” and the entry of “agribusiness” into politics were discussed in an exclusive Delfi interview with D. Grybauskaitė.
The VSD report has highlighted how essentially criminal activities had entered the governance of the state, however, the president emphasises that while it is certainly the task of intelligence and law enforcement institutions to monitor and prevent crime, the material presented is a full compilation that was requested by the NSGK regarding MG Baltic activities and the full view only becomes clear on obtaining the compiled material.
“I wish to once more clearly state that over the entire nine years – from 2009 the Presidential Palace has not received anything in writing. We were occasionally informed verbally. And verbally means that the material was presented only in the capacity, which could not hamper investigations. And investigations proceeded, due to which in 2016 when proof was obtained because it is not enough to be aware, namely after legal proof was found that in spring this year the MG Baltic political corruption case with three legal and five physical individuals reached the courts.
Also, last autumn, G. Vainauskas‘ case on influence reached the court and just recently the pre-trial investigation on Order and Justice influence was concluded. As such, we can see that law enforcement did their job. To say that they simply gathered material and did nothing, that certainly cannot be done, but once again, I wish to say that such summarised written material was presented in March this year for the first time in my presidency. And I worked with three VSD heads – Malakauskas, Grina and now Jauniškis. Hence I would like to state that it is necessary to separate, what law enforcement did and the political process ongoing in the Seimas now,” the head of state said.
In terms of whether it is a good idea to disclose the currently classified names of figures appearing in the reports, the president once again emphasises that the process ongoing in Seimas currently and law enforcement processes are separate matters. “Indeed both the laws and I formulated to all the intelligence and law enforcement institutions a goal that criminal activities need to be obstructed through legal, not political measures – just discussions and verbal information is not enough, there must be proof. And when such proof appears, no doubt other steps must follow – pre-trial investigation and the case goes to court.
What we are currently seeing in Seimas is a special commission, a political commission; we have had such cases before. And we know well, what the Constitutional Court has said – no special commission can overlap with what law enforcement does or obstruct law enforcement work. So what links will there be – massive expectations were raised, everyone is waiting and discussing, but I would like to say – there will be no legal consequences. Let me repeat again – it is only a political process.
There will be no legal consequences except perhaps lobbyism legislation will be somewhat amended or something such, but it is a long process yet, how we use it, what amendments we will make – time will tell, but where there is a major risk – everything that the VSD or law enforcement institutions disclosed can also be used for defence. Such practices were already used many years ago, thus any political disclosure of material when a court process is ongoing is an incredible risk, which can have a justification and can be most useful to the new political power, which is seeking to criticise previous ones, but the risk remains that this whole political process will be exploited for defence.
As such law enforcement must carefully consider what it declassifies and of course the responsible committee must present its conclusions carefully so they are not exploited for defence,” D. Grybauskaitė explained.
While the president had verbally heard notions of issues related to MG Baltic and a certain “so called” journalist’s activities, the information was never detailed and systematic, presented in writing. Meetings and interaction could not be a basis for criticism and further steps because as she notes, in such a case she would have to avoid interaction with near all members of Seimas and cabinet.
“The speculations and accusations are currently greatly overblown because the documentation we see from law enforcement institutions to the Seimas has a number of risk factors. Not straying into concrete material, I wish to present historical facts – for example if phone conversation transcripts are presented in public, it is completely clear that it will be used for defence and Lithuania has lost cases in Strasbourg simply because it is a breach of human rights. Even if it is a conversation by a very bad person. Thus, we should see everything that is ongoing now from two sides – one matter is perhaps raising political expectations, but a whole other is what consequences there will be and how the defence will exploit it.
And another accent – everything that the committee has now is the material that has been used by law enforcement and investigated by law enforcement, investigations have been performed so that the cases would reach the courts. To make it understandable, one can say that currently there is a political regurgitation of information, it is a secondary use and it once more proves that this investigation will have no legal consequences except political scandals, political bubbles and will be used for defence,” D. Grybauskaitė explained.
When pressed to directly respond whether she would directly support disclosing further information, D. Grybauskaitė refused to comment on such disclosure, noting that she currently does not know what conclusions will be presented and that she can only present what risks exist.
Certain politicians have stated that the publication of the VSD report benefits the Presidential Palace the most. In response to this, President Grybauskaitė notes that the disclosures benefit the defence and current majority the most because this ten-year-old information can be distorted in various ways and exploited.
In terms of this ten year long information gathering, D. Grybauskaitė emphasises that when necessary, her office would request for information, such as when appointing judges or prosecutors and her appointment decisions would be based on namely law enforcement presented data. “But to say that nothing happened in ten years is probably not possible because as I mentioned, in spring 2016 the “loan in a box” event happened and this is already a practically serious fact, at which basis it is possible to seriously develop and move toward courts, which is what happened in a year and a half. As such, cooperation between intelligence and law enforcement institutions – the STT and prosecutors – proceeded. Of course not all that fast because evidence gathering is more difficult than making political spectacle,” she stated.
D. Grybauskaitė has previously opposed changes in party financing legislation, which currently prohibits direct funding of parties by legal entities. When asked whether she believes such amendments could have prevented cases such as those of E. Masiulis, the head of state reaffirms her belief that such legislative changes should not occur because they would simply legalise the purchasing of political parties. She points out how in a number of countries, ranging from Latvia and Poland, to France and the United States, legal entities cannot back parties. Private individuals can, however.
“I believe that a return [to previous legislation, which allowed business donating to parties] would legalise the purchase of political parties. In order to compensate the parties’ losses we quadrupled their financing from the budget. And this is independent of favour or interest from separate business groups.
Over the seven years of this system functioning we have risen by twelve points in the Transparency International transparency index, so I believe that a turn back, especially when we see and hear about potential actions from certain business groups, this would not only be a mistake, but even mockery.
This is because the conclusion from such a process would not be the one you should expect, but we must make conclusions nonetheless and not think that such an interaction with suspect businesses can be beneficial, it is even destructive to entire parties, poisonous to politicians. Both business and politicians must interact more responsibly. That interaction between politics and business is overall problematic, over those thirty years we have all been in the risk zone and the moment of taint remains a threat and one of the conclusions from this process could be prevention, so that such relations both from the side of business and from politics would be viewed more carefully and avoided,” D. Grybauskaitė said.
As for why initiatives continue to surface to return to allowing legal entities to donate to parties, the president believes that they appear from interested parties wishing to hold influence because under the old system all donations carried the expectation that the party would “work off” the donation. Meanwhile, she notes, under the current system party leaders actually feel freer than before.
The president re-emphasises that the disclosure of intelligence reports is a political process and that she believes that it will have no legal consequences, only being beneficial to the majority, who according to her wish to demonstrate how they are good, while everyone else is bad. She points out that while the investigation material is already historical information, even currently issues remain, with elements of illegal obtaining and accumulation of land and “agribusiness” links to politics, but these being ignored. “We are seeing selective investigation. And we must all understand this,” she states, adding that one can hope that it will not take another ten years for these matters to come under scrutiny, with it being clear already.
When asked, why interest groups were so keen on establishing a presence in the courts and prosecutors’ offices, the president explains that, “Yes, indeed when I was elected nine years ago, the situation in law enforcement was very difficult and one of the largest tasks I set myself was to break apart the clans which arrived a long time ago, which were greatly integrated with business, business interests and the interest was clear – public procurements, various cases, even the VMI system. And we saw what the interest was in employing news media, using influential individuals, opinion makers, how it was done. And I remember that the largest opposition to me was from law enforcement and the court system.
It took some two years to break through the system so that it would want to become more transparent and clean itself. Now I can conclude that some 300 new judges have entered the system out of a total of 800. All court heads at all levels have been replaced and the largest problem we still hear of and see is from previously appointed leaders, who simply entered retirement age and here one notable individual already entered an interest group’s workplace.
There certainly were such bad cases and the merger with the political system as well, but I want to assure now that I am convinced that no one could have influenced the new appointees. I could not be influenced by anyone.
The court system and trust in it is still significantly higher because we made automatic case distribution and publicity as well – people can see and hear online, what is happening now. There are very many transparency-making processes, where subjective factors are removed. I greatly hope that it will yield long-term effects and will influence the court system’s independence.”
D. Grybauskaitė emphasizes that during her tenure, 21 judges were fired for demeaning the name of judge, while during the entire period from 1990 to 2009 only 14 firings were done. She notes that all the firings were based on law enforcement findings and proof for various reasons, ranging from demeaning the reputation of judges to corruption, alcoholism and other issues. As for why such apparent vulnerability was present in the judiciary, the president believes that primarily it was due to pressure from politicians, followed by greed and elements of corruption.
At this point, however, she is glad to note that a new corps of judges has arrived, the prosecution is cleansing itself and self-control mechanisms in the courts, prosecutors’ offices and the STT are beginning to function.
The VSD report dedicates much attention to news media. Regarding the impact of these findings on the freedom of speech and ethical journalists’ work, the head of state notes that it would be best if the outcomes of the current political uproar could have been avoided, including devolving into extremes – prohibiting and persecuting. “Let us not forget that we are under the rule of law, everything must be as per the law and protecting human rights. This is outlined in the Constitution, our international commitments, thus freedom of press is what we must protect because any attempts from the current Seimas to regulate somehow have already cost Lithuania its reputation – we have already dropped in the free speech ratings.
As such, careless statements by politicians should be viewed with care, politicians must speak more carefully and well, a consequence of this whole process, I hope that journalists themselves will understand it as a need for better self-regulation, that journalists will act more responsibly because it is a matter of their honour. What they saw, how their representatives exploit and become tools of interest groups, I believe it is a preventative measure, which will allow news media to grow further, to become more responsible and strengthen its autonomy,” D. Grybauskaitė said.
When asked whether after all the VSD reports and NSGK investigation anything will change, President Grybauskaitė stated that she does not believe anything will happen, given that these matters are the use of secondary material and will have no legal consequences. Nevertheless, she sees it as an opportunity to adjust certain legislation as well as a risk that it will be exploited by the defence because all that could be used by the prosecution has already been used. She laments that, “As such, the political process is using the same material, which was already used, as such bar prevention and knowledge, bar prevention in relations between business, politics and news media self-control mechanisms, no other legal consequences will occur.”
“We will live with more awareness, more cleaning up, even while being a little dirtier, all of us, but this is more of a preventative function and everything that law enforcement could, it has used, it is not without reason that I conclude that there are already two serious court cases regarding influence and political corruption processes, as well as the Order and Justice investigation being done, we can also hope for that case to reach the courts soon. As we can see, law enforcement has done its job,” the president concluded.