Ignas Vėgėlė and why his family’s business denies what it previously took pride in

Presidential palace
Presidential palace, DELFI / Šarūnas Mažeika

Attorney Ignas Vėgėlė gained fame during the quarantine period as the Chairman of the Bar Association, giving a speech against restrictions on human rights, Eglė Samoškaitė states in TV3.lt This individual was not well-known in politics, as he only participated in political activities in his youth and later focused on his legal career. However, after deciding to run for the presidency, Vėgėlė‘s personality, career, and family businesses were scrutinised. And it turned out that not everyone could withstand the magnifying glass.

The portal tv3.lt aims to highlight the weaknesses of all presidential candidates so that voters can make informed choices not only about the politicians’ positive qualities but also by assessing their shortcomings. We have titled the series of articles Candidates’ Sins, and whether these sins hinder holding the position of President will be decided by the Lithuanian voters.”

The Customs Department inspects Father’s business

The Vėgėlė family owns the Vilpros Group, which includes eight other companies operating in Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. Algirdas Stasys Vėgėlė and his brother Martynas Vėgėlė play first fiddle in the companies. Vėgėlė himself has retired from the family business but owns shares in the company Internetinė Prekyba (Online Retail). Furthermore, he has granted loans to the group companies Almigija and Vilpros Investicija and the public institution he founded, the Legal and Economic Research Centre. 

It is no sin to have a business and to be born into a family of businessmen. Still, recently, the Siena Centre for Investigative Journalism, together with Laisvės TV( Liberty TV )and the Belarusian investigative team Biuro, found out that Vėgėlė’s family’s business had been exporting air-conditioning units for about half a year between 2022 and 2023 to Kyrgyzstan to companies with addresses that do not exist, and were working with Belarus. The export of air conditioners to Belarus (but not Russia) has been sanctioned, and it is suspected that Vilpra may have circumvented the sanctions by transporting the goods via Kyrgyzstan. 

When the journalists’ investigation was published, Vėgėlė explained that he was being attacked, took a photo with his mouth taped with adhesive tape, and tried to demonise the investigating journalists. However, he then admitted in the tv3.lt programme Dienos Pjūvis (Daily Cut) that Vilpra had received attention from the Department of Customs. The Customs Department is trying to determine whether the business of the Vėgėlės family was involved in sanctions evasion. 

“We would like to point out that Vilpra UAB does not conduct any trade with Russia or Belarus, has always complied and continues to comply with the sanctions in force, and does not work with any entities known or suspected of circumventing the sanctions,” the company stated in a press release. 

Father’s company built Lukashenko’s residence

It is interesting that Vilpra, in a press release issued in response to the Siena and Laisvės Televizija investigations into air conditioners, denied any past involvement in the construction of Belarusian President Aliaksandr Lukashenko’s residence.

“We would like to point out that neither Vilpra nor any other company of the Vilpra Group has been involved in the construction of the Belarusian President’s residence and has not received any income from the construction activities,” the statement said. 

Meanwhile, in 2016, the publication  Statybų Naujienos (Construction News) published an article stating that among the significant projects of Vilpra Group’s company Vilpra Pramonė (Vilpra Industry) were “a NATO base in Amari, Estonia, the Moderator boiler plant in Poland, the residence of the President of Belarus, the Kuopio housing estate in Finland, and multi-storey residential complexes in Minsk, Kaliningrad, and Belgium”. 

This article was coordinated with Vėgėlė’s father, Algirdas Stasys Vėgėlė, and can, therefore, be considered a confirmed fact. 

By itself, cooperation with the Belarusian regime until 2020 would not be a huge sin, as Lithuania has officially been engaging quite firmly with Belarus in the hope of drawing Lukashenko away from Russia and into the orbit of the European Union, but this strategy has failed. However, the fact that the company denies this fact implies it is unpleasant. 

He has disliked the Conservatives since he was young

Vėgėlė has been hostile to the Homeland Union since his youth. This is not a sin, but a long-standing hostility to anyone is not usually the mark of an accepting and open personality.

As a young man, the presidential candidate was a member of the Christian Democratic Union led by Kazis Bobelis. This union then merged with the Lithuanian Christian Democrats, with Valentinas Stundys becoming its Chairman and Vėgėlė serving as Chairman of its board. 

Colleagues from this period do not say anything very sinful about Mr Vėgėlė, but they do emphasise his shrewd and politically calculating character. “He did not take any unnecessary steps; he was quite pragmatic, calculating and planning his future steps”, said former Christian Democrats. 

But what stuck out for former colleagues was that Vėgėlė disliked the Homeland Union very much at the time. When the Lithuanian Christian Democrats decided to join the Conservatives because otherwise, they were threatened with political oblivion, Vėgėlė could not accept this and left politics. 

One of his colleagues at the time wondered, “He disliked the Homeland Union so much that it seemed to be encoded in his genes.” 

The spokesman left the team

Despite his dislike of Conservatives, Vėgėlė is not an aggressive attacker and avoids authority figures. This became clear when Vidas Rachlevičius, a former journalist who had been the spokesman, resigned from his post and who, as one can understand from Vėgėlė’s own words, came up with the idea of ridiculing Prime Minister Šimonytė for her unsuccessful electoral slogan “A strong president – a strong country”.

It was then thought that on the occasion of Women’s Day, Ms Šimonytė should be presented with a bouquet tied with a ribbon reminiscent of the colours of the Russian flag, as the election slogan was very reminiscent of the motto of Vladimir Putin’s 2018 campaign. This angered some of Vėgėlė’s fans, who expressed frustration in the comments. 

Vėgėlė then explained that it was a lousy communication decision. At the same time, Rachlevičius resigned from his position, saying that he did not want to be identified with a person whose many attitudes contradicted his personal beliefs and values. 

“I cannot represent, advise and be identified with a person whose many attitudes contradict my personal beliefs and values. Moreover, working with him destroys my professional reputation, and I have decided to resign,” Rachlevičius wrote on social media. 

Since then, Vėgėlė has kept a low profile of his team and has been assisted by Laineta Skerstonienė, who is the Acting Director of the Centre for Legal and Economic Research founded by Vėgėlė. 

Expert’s assessment: there are a few slips

Matas Baltrukevičius, an analyst at the Vilnius Institute for Policy Analysis, says that the journalistic investigation into the export of air conditioners to Kyrgyzstan by Vėgėlė’s family business was the most prominent in the context of the elections, as it raises suspicions about the circumvention of sanctions on exports to Belarus. 

“This was probably the most unpleasant story that Vėgėlė had to deal with. It is very convenient when Vėgėlė himself quotes one of the investigations by Laisvės Televizija against Nausėda. If he is investigated, he says that everything is politically motivated. But what is useful for Vėgėlė is that the voters he is targeting are unlikely to follow the activities of Laisvės Televizija and trust it very much,” says Baltrukevičius. 

According to Baltrukevičius, what is essential in this case is that if Vėgėlė’s circle has business interests in countries that are unfriendly to us, then if a candidate becomes President of Lithuania, the likelihood of finding himself in a very ambiguous situation, where decisions have to be made one way or the other increases. 

“Then everyone can start discussing whether Vėgėlė thinks one way or the other or whether his opinion is determined by the business interests of people close to him,” the political scientist explains. 

The interlocutor also refers to the slip-ups as the move by Vėgėlė’s team to present Šimonytė with flowers with a ribbon resembling the colours of the Russian flag. Even though Vėgėlė makes it clear that the author of the idea is his former spokesman, the responsibility usually falls on the candidate. 

Mr Baltrukevičius also points out that during the election campaign, Mr Vėgėlė is trying to play into the hands of the current President, Mr Nausėda.

For example, during the debate in Lukiškės, Vėgėlė attacked Nausėda because of the support of representatives of the company Teltonika for Nausėda’s election campaign. The President was reprimanded about Vėgėlė’s father’s business, claiming that Vėgėlė profited from his father’s and brother’s businesses. As is well known, it is true that family members have donated to Vėgėlė’s campaign the amounts allowed. Mr Vėgėlė then retorted by asking whether Mr Nausėda was raised in an orphanage. 

“Such things do not add to the respect for a candidate when he has elementary disrespect for his competitors and behaves unethically,” the interlocutor said about Vėgėlė. 

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