Did Skvernelis act wisely? Tensions growing between Grybauskaitė and the ruling coalition

Saulius Skvernelis, Dalia Grybauskaitė
DELFI / Karolina Pansevič

Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis‘ decision to propose lawyer Giedrius Danėlius as minister of justice is being described as the majority’s challenge to the president.

“But who will be left with a bloodied nose after this struggle?” Mykolas Romeris Univeristy docent Virgis Valentinavičius asks.

He spoke this way on Monday morning, after the announcement, following a meeting between Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis and President Dalia Grybauskaitė, that former Prosecutor General’s Office Klaipėda district department chief, now lawyer, Giedrius Danėlius will be presented as candidate to the post of justice minister.

This candidate was proposed to the head of state after the president made critical comments on another minister – the head of the Ministry of Agriculture Bronius Markauskas of the “Farmers”, who is facing accusations over his relatives’ actions in cultivating land they do not own without the written consent of the owners.

The leaders of the Lithuanian Farmer and Greens Union (LVŽS), primarily the party’s chairman Ramūnas Karbauskis and afterward the party’s delegate prime minister Saulius Skvernelis announced they see no reason for B. Markauskas to resign.

They also publically claimed that D. Grybauskaitė’s positions regarding B. Markauskas is supposedly intended to cover the problems of a political power, which is apparently more acceptable to the president, the opposition Conservatives. Recently information has surfaced in the public sphere on the testimonies of certain Conservative party members in the MG Baltic investigation. No suspicions have been declared to any of the politicians.

After S. Skvernelis presented the candidate to justice minister, talks began that the majority is trying to corner the head of state this way. This is because G. Danėlius, who is being proposed, has worked in a number of resonant cases as a lawyer, including representing the president’s advisor Daiva Ulbinaitė, who was accused of revealing state secrets, but was acquitted. Currently G. Danėlius is defending former MG Baltic VP Raimondas Kurlianskis in a political corruption case involving the business group.

Commenting on the situation, journalist Andrius Tapinas wrote on Facebook, musing that the majority has presented the president with a time bomb with G. Danėlius’ candidacy. According to the journalist, if the president approves G. Danėlius’ candidacy, a scandal is guaranteed – there will be talks that justice in the state is overseen by MG Baltic. If she does not approve the candidacy, there will be questions posed, why a well performing jurist was not appointed.

Advisor: prime minister has total confidence in the candidate

The prime minister’s advisor Skirmantas Malinauskas added further fuel to the fire through his comment on Delfi on Monday. After listing the accusations toward the Minister of Agriculture B. Markauskas and presenting the majority’s version again, asking whether the president upholds equal standards of transparency when she demanded for B. Markauskas’ resignation, but at the same time is not emphasising the Conservatives’ responsibility for their links to businesses, he also expressed a position on G. Danėlius being proposed.

“There are numerous colourful figures among G. Danėlius’ clients – ranging from President D. Grybauskaitė’s advisor D. Ulbinaitė, to MG Baltic leadership. Just because of this it is “politically unbeneficial” to propose such a candidate and this move will, no doubt, cause much discussion. However, many people do not quite grasp the difference between the party chairman, who goes to R. Kurlianskis’ house to discuss the advertising of his political power and a professional lawyer, who is hired by those unacquainted with him because of his high qualification,” he wrote.

S. Malinauskas accented that he released the comment because he was “very concerned that the president will not approve the candidacy.”

“Just so that she would show that the prime minister is unable to present a suitable individual or that he has lower standards for candidates than her Excellency. This way she would add a few rating percentages to herself and would take a few away from the prime minister. And if she does not do it, then perhaps G. Landsbergis will demand it. It is a good opportunity to lash out at the prime minister. Then we will be headed down the oft walked road and will seek some sort of compromise option,” the prime minister’s advisor wrote.

On the same day when answering Delfi questions, S. Malinauskas specified that a good and professional lawyer represented the president’s advisor and this cannot bar his way to become minister of justice.

According to the prime minister’s advisor, President D. Grybauskaitė did not know up to Monday, what candidate will be proposed and did not participate in the selection process.

“The prime minister completely trusts the candidate and takes complete responsibility for him,” S. Malinauskas noted.

He assured that this candidacy is “the result of agreement between the prime minister and coalition partners.” G. Danėlius, according to S. Malinauskas, was first proposed by Gediminas KirkilasLithuanian Social Democrat Labour Party (LSDDP).

Who chose: LSDDP or Skvernelis himself?

Analyst V. Valentinavičius described the majority’s decision to present G. Danėlius’ candidacy to the president, knowing his activities in representing D. Ulbinaitė, MG Baltic and such, as at least odd because it opens up room for intrigue and chaos.

“Another matter is that this proposal indicates that the Social Democrat Labourites sign under this intrigue – perhaps against the president – programme because they announced that they proposed the candidacy first. There is, however a slight mismatch – S. Skvernelis says that it is a joint candidate. I believe that this is solely a candidate of S. Skvernelis and R. Karbauskis, to which the Social Democrat Labourites have simply been “glued” on to,” he noted.

“Next we will watch whether B. Markauskas remains in his post despite a thought process completely impossible in a democratic society that you can unabashedly cultivate land that does not belong to you. If he remains in his post, it will provoke a confrontation with the president. It means that the “Farmers” and R. Karbauskis are confident in their chances at the upcoming municipal, presidential and Seimas elections. Of course, the question of how realistic that confidence is remains, but them thinking well of themselves, increasingly so, is a fact,” the analyst noted.

When asked, whether this way the majority may be trying to corner the head of state, V. Valentinavčius said, “If anyone wants to “fight” the president, in other terms get into intrigue, this means that the challenger trusts his strength. It is a question, who will be the one left with the bloodied nose.”

LVŽS Social Democrat Labour partners maintain the version that they were the ones to first propose the candidacy, but do not take up complete authorship of the “discovery.”

As LSDDP chairman G. Kirkilas told Delfi, G. Danėlius’ candidacy was “discovered” during discussions with the prime minister, reviewing a large number of candidates.

“We do not raise it as a core question [whose candidate it is], especially when we do not yet have a coalition agreement. We thought that this could be a join candidate proposed by us. He agrees with it himself, he is not worried he is proposed by our party,” the politician explained.

On questioning whether the candidate was “discovered” by Social Democrat Labour, G. Kirkilas stated that, “This is like with Kaliningrad transit – I still cannot recall, who found that variant. Everything happened in the discussion, considering all the circumstances.”

With Delfi inquiring whether the coalition is not seeking to make matter difficult for the president by proposing this candidacy, G. Kirkilas assured that such talks are simply conspiracy theories and the situation itself has nothing to do with tensions regarding Minister of Agriculture B. Markauskas.

“It is not linked at all, his candidacy was discussed well before, prior to B. Markauskas’ story beginning. If the Presidential Palace chose to not approve him [G. Danėlius], it would require very serious arguments. To my knowledge there are no such arguments because he has already been reviewed and to my knowledge the services have no complaints regarding him,” the LSDDP chairman explained.

Famous clientele

Among G. Danėlius’, who currently works at the TGS Baltic legal office, clients we find more than just the president’s advisor D. Ulbinaitė and former MG Baltic VP R. Kurlianskis.

Earlier it was announced that in the MG Baltic case he also represented the interests of special witness, MG Baltic executive Romanas Raulynaitis.

In late 2013, it was announced that in the case of the flyLAL, G. Danėlius also defended former company stockholder Gediminas Žiemelis. At the time, he confirmed to journalists that some time earlier, during his tenure in the Vilnius prosecutor’s office, he encountered flyLAL when investigating a case related to the airline. The investigation led to a court trial.

G. Danėlius refused prosecutor general Evaldas Pašilis‘ proposal in 2016 to be the latter’s deputy specifically due to his work as a lawyer. At the time G. Danėlius’ candidacy had already been presented to President Grybauskaitė.

“Understanding that current and former commitments to my clients could lead to conflicts of interest, lead to speculation, in order to not cast a shadow on the prosecution system and in order to prevent energy for future tasks to be spent on ignoring past work, I decided that currently it is not a suitable time to aim for the post of deputy prosecutor general. I have informed the prosecutor general of this already,” the lawyer announced after discussions arose.

Different situations

Currently, according to Delfi data, G. Danėlius is representing Solis Tribus stockholder Antanas Petrošius, who has entered law enforcement sights due to perceived attempts to monopolise blood plasma collection through the National Blood Centre.

The lawyer, who is the candidate for minister of justice, stated he could neither confirm, nor deny this information.

“The fact of calling on a lawyer is a secret. In this specific case I have not observed that this information would have been made public, the pre-trial investigation is at its initial stage, thus I do not want to either confirm or deny it,” he stated.

G. Danėlius told Delfi that he does not believe the scenario from two years ago could repeat.

“I believe that the situations are different. They differ in at the very list that as you know, I am a penal law lawyer, which typically means participation in pre-trial investigations, court reviews of cases. The Prosecutor General’s Office is linked to these processes one way or another, while the Ministry of Justice is functionally unrelated to specific pre-trial investigations and their reviews in court. Functionally there is no conflict,” he said.

When asked about the public doubts, whether due to his legal tenure, he can make use of significant information and whether this could lead to a conflict of interests, G. Danėlius denied it firmly.

“I can state very clearly that a lawyer’s professional secret extends to not only the fact of calling on a lawyer, but also to the content and actions of consultations made. The law prohibits lawyers from publicising what they have done when acting on behalf of their client,” G. Danėlius stated.

Doubts that the lawyer would be unable to take certain postings due to his professional activities were peculiar to Vilnius University Department of Law professor Vytautas Nekrošius.

“The president is decisive and I believe she will approve the candidacy. I do not believe there is any fundamental problem here. A lawyer is a lawyer, he defends various people’s rights regardless of what things appear like to politicians.

If we begin saying that an individual cannot take a post because they are a lawyer and had certain clients as part of his constitutional duties, then where do we go? It cannot be. Especially when the post of minister is not linked to any criminal, civil or other cases or chances to influence their content,” V. Nekrošius assured.

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