Skvernelis’ real team: increasingly more companions in important posts

Skvernelis companions' scheme

There is nothing wrong to enlist the aid of tried and tested companions after taking a high post. Questions do arise, however, when individuals who recently worked in law enforcement structures and have not passed the so-called cool down period begin working in government.

“If many of my former colleagues come up, then we should decide what that “many” is. I am trying to recall now who is in my environment, there doesn’t seem to be a single one from those times,” Saulius Skvernelis answered after Delfi inquired why a number of the current prime minister’s colleagues from his time as police Prosecutor General are now entering important posts.

When asked for what traits he employed those people, the head of cabinet stated that the chief criterion is the individual’s professionalism and decorum.

“These are people who achieved, who pursued opportunities, worked hard and achieved. On their own,” he assured.

On inquiring whether thoughts didn’t appear that after certain positions are occupied by individuals linked with him, there could be doubts, S. Skvernelis was surprised.

“Why is it that you can be critical of individuals who did their work and reached certain positions? Why are we not critical of, for example, the representatives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs? From the President’s office, to the cabinet, to the Seimas and ministries – how many of those people are there?” the PM said.

How does S. Skvernelis view the concerns that with him becoming head of cabinet, former officers are entering government?

“Well you see, if people believe that officers are an evil to the country, then there is basis for such concerns. If we see the officer who serves the country as an evil. My position is different. I believe that having officials and officers who work honourably, it is of benefit to the state,” the prime minister emphasised.

Who will take a high post?

Interest in S. Skvernelis’ team arose when a few weeks ago discussions began who would replace Milda Dargužaitė who resigned from the post of government chief of staff.

Delfi sources claimed then that the most realistic candidate to the post if the current Ministry of the Interior chief of staff Algirdas Stončaitis. He was appointed to his current post after defeating twelve other candidates in a competition in 2015, soon after S. Skvernelis became minister of the interior.

Prior to being appointed chief of staff of the Ministry of the Interior, A. Stončaitis worked as S. Skvernelis’ deputy during his term as police prosecutor general.

At the time, the ministry of the interior competition evaluation commission was led by the then vice Minister of the Interior Elvinas Jankevičius of the Lithuanian Social Democrat Party (LSDP).

With S. Skvernelis’ resignation from the post of minister of the interior, E. Jankevičius also soon resigned from his position. After his resignation he also left the Social Democrats.

After the elections, with S. Skvernelis becoming prime minister, E. Jankevičius was invited to his former boss’ team – became the prime minister’s advisor for municipal, regional and social policy, as well as sports questions.

Talks have appeared in government corridors that after discussions appearing regarding his potential shift to the government chancellery, A. Stončaitis will remain in the Ministry of the Interior. He himself assured Delfi that he did not receive an invitation to become government chief of staff.

It is believed that currently the most realistic candidate to become the head of the government chancellery is E. Jankevičius.

Ministry under the prime minister’s wing

When forming the current cabinet, there were talks that namely E. Jankevičius will be trusted with the post of minister of the interior. However PM S. Skvernelis offered the position to someone else – Vilnius city county court judge Eimutis Misiūnas.

S. Skvernelis is long acquainted with him: in 1996-1998 both men worked as assistants in the then Lithuanian Police Academy Political Law and Professional Tactics Department.

It was not without S. Skvernelis’ consent that one of the Ministry of the Interior vice minister posts was offered to Česlovas Mulma who led the Alytus police up to then. This was confirmed by the official to the Alytaus Naujienos publication at the end of last year.

“I was offered it [the position] by Prime Minister S. Skvernelis about a month ago. He gave me time to think, last week I agreed,” Č. Mulma stated then.

A tested companion at the state border

Upon deciding to enter politics three years ago, S. Skvernelis received the news that he is being appointed minister of the interior while being in Morocco. His long time comrade Renatas Požėla who was on holiday with Skvernelis was earnestly glad for it.

“It was happiness and understanding what a responsibility it is. His understanding that he will have to leave a beloved job, take off the uniform, shelve the epaulets and don a politician’s suit. This sort of thing happens once in your life,” he told BNS a few years later.

The officers’ paths crossed already in 2005 when S. Skvernelis was then the Lithuanian police escort team deputy commissioner and R. Požėla – the head of the team’s service organisation department.

In April 2008 with S. Skvernelis becoming deputy to the police prosecutor general, R. Požėla also began working in the police department soon after – he became the head of police public management. In 2011, when S. Skvernelis replaced Vizgirdas Telyčėnas in the post of prosecutor general, he chose R. Požėla as his deputy.

It was namely this officer that S. Skvernelis named his successor in the police department when he decided to work as minister of the interior. However the smooth process broke down there. The post of police prosecutor general was handed to another deputy – Linas Pernavas from Kaunas, rather than R. Požėla. As S. Skvernelis stated, this was the decision of President Dalia Grybauskaitė and the then Prime Minister Algirdas Butkevičius.

A true thriller unfolded in November 2014 over the appointment of the police prosecutor general. It turned out that after his appointment as minister of the interior, S. Skvernelis presented the PM with the names of three potential successors, however the agenda only had R. Požėla’s candidacy remaining in it.

“I can say that I had another discussion with Mr. S. Skvernelis. We also discussed this question, there was definitely massive tensions appearing that someone acted so inappropriately. We will of course strive to investigate internally,” A. Butkevičius told the media then.

S. Skvernelis proposed to inquire the government chancellery regarding the misunderstanding. He praised L. Pernavas who became prosecutor general, however also noted that, “I believe that in a year and a bit he would certainly be an exceptionally strong candidate, now he also is one, but perhaps still lacks understanding of the corridors of power, cabinet, Seimas, but I believe it can all be learnt, most importantly the police is in good hands.”

R. Požėla awaited an appointment for a few months – in March 2015 he was appointed by Minister of the Interior S. Skvernelis to the post of head of the State Border Security Service (VSAT). The then minister spoke of his decision then as being related to the officer’s “professionalism and receptivity to reform.”

Career through government chancellery

After the police prosecutor general was appointed, S. Skvernelis publically confirmed that he proposed three officers as potential candidates: the aforementioned R. Požėla and L. Pernavas, as well as the then head of the police department Immunity Council Donatas Malaškevičius.

The Immunity Council holds oversight of officers adhering to legislative requirements and was established in 2011 at the initiative of S. Skvernelis.

This institution performed an important role in the pre-trial investigation regarding suspicions that fell upon officers for failing to prevent the mass murder in Kaunas by Drąsius Kedys. During the investigation Visvaldas Račkauskas resigned from the post of deputy police prosecutor general after becoming the chief suspect. He told the court that S. Skvernelis was seeking to fire him. V. Račkauskas was fully acquitted only in 2015.

The influence of the Immunity Council was also visible in the scandal of the then Lithuanian Criminal Police Bureau (LKPB) head Algirdas Matonis in winter 2014. After being arrested driving inebriated, A. Matonis later defended himself that he had been treated to a drink by a secret police informant from whom he found out classified and dangerous to the public information that could not be spoken of by phone, thus he took to driving to the criminal police bureau, from where he could have safely called colleagues.

At the time information leaked to the public that there apparently was data that before going on this trip, A. Matonis perhaps called S. Skvernelis. However this data was not investigated further, D. Malaškevičius’ Immunity Council declared that A. Matonis sullied the name of the officer, for which he was fired from service in the interior affairs system, losing his state pension and social guarantees.

In May 2014 Rolandas Kiškis, who earlier led the police in Ukmergė, was appointed the head of the LKPB. He was chosen from two candidates by the police department’s Commission for Pretenders to Open Higher Officer Position, which was led by the then prosecutor general S. Skvernelis.

D. Malaškevičius soon also made a career – S. Skvernelis, now working as minister of the interior, appointed him deputy prosecutor general. D. Malaškevičius replaced A. Stončaitis in this post, after the latter moved to work in the ministry of the interior chancellery.

With S. Skvernelis becoming prime minister, D. Malaškevičius became government first deputy head of staff. Talks appeared then that he may replace government chief of staff M. Dargužaitė – S. Skvernels neither confirmed, nor denied this then.

However just a month later D. Malaškevičius won the competition for the post of state owned company Lietuvos Geležinkeliai Procurement Centre head. He surpassed forty other candidates in the competition.

Sometimes positions change

Another former officer currently in S. Skvernelis’ environment is Donatas Matuiza, who was appointed the prime minister’s advisor for law and law enforcement questions just several weeks ago. In the middle of summer he resigned from the position of vice minister of justice after being in the post since January this year.

D. Matuiza resigned from the Ministry of Justice, where he curated the prison system, after the continuing scandal over the appointment of the new head of the Prisons Department. In late June the Ministry of Justice announced that jurist Artūras Norkevičius won the competition for the post of director, having worked as vice minister during S. Skvernelis’ leadership of the Ministry of the Interior.

A. Norkevičius has already led the Prisons Department before and D. Matuiza worked as his deputy then. That said the Ministry of Justice publically declared that during the competition, this then vice minister had not engaged in its organisation.

Nevertheless A. Norkevičius was not appointed the head of the Prisons Department and took the matter to court because of it. PM Skvernelis then unexpectedly declared that the Prisons Department, with its Soviet stench, needs a leader unrelated to it.

“It is a big mystery why A. Norkevičius was not appointed. S. Skvernelis spoke well of him during his tenure as minister of the interior, even trusted him to act as his deputy at times. But afterwards he suddenly changed his mind after former won the competition,” politicians speaking under the condition of anonymity by Delfi noted.

The competition to become the chief of the Prisons Department was won several days ago by Robertas Krikštaponis, who has worked in the police system since the beginning of independence. After retiring some time ago, he was recently the head of the Lietuvos Energijos Gamyba prevention department.

Doors opened by various institutions

According to Delfi sources, the largest in the country, Vilnius district Chief Police Commissariat (VPK) did not avoid S. Skvernelis’ attention. In early 2016, after the then Vilnius district VPK head Kęstutis Lančinskas was appointed the head of the EU advisory mission to Ukraine, the then head of the Ministry of the Interior S. Skvernelis publically stated he believes that the commissar could be replaced by one of his two deputies. These positions were, at the time, occupied by the highly experienced criminal investigator Antonis Mikulskis and Ernestas Jurkonis.

With K. Lančinskas’ departure, A. Mikulskis became the interim head of the Vilnius police, however the situation later changed. In August 2016 the Vilnius district VPK received a new interim leader – R. Kiškis was transferred into the post from the LKPB. A month later, apparently by the will of police Prosecutor General L. Pernavas, Saulius Gagas was appointed the head of the Vilnius district VPK. Gagas led the Police Department Public Police Management up to then.

The potential candidates for the head of Vilnius police identified earlier by S. Skvernelis resigned from their posts with the change of cabinet. E. Jurkonis became advisor to Lithuanian Farmers and Greens Union (LVŽS) delegated Minister of the Environment Kęstutis Navickas. This office, it was announced, was established in reflection of the government programme aim to reduce corruption in state institutions.

A. Mikulskis was appointed the head of the Financial Crime Investigation Service (FNTT) this September. This became possible with the Seimas agreeing to the cabinet proposal this summer to allow to change the regulation for the appointment of the FNTT director general, appointing the official without competition, with the decision of the ministerial cabinet.

Earlier the head of the FNTT was appointed based on a competition announced by the Ministry of the Interior. Under the old regulations, talks were heard from the cabinet that the FNTT needed reorganising, merging the service to the State Tax Inspectorate, but after a Seimas ruling, this idea was forgotten.

To journalists’ questions, A. Mikulskis, who has 30 years of experience working as a criminal investigator, stated that he and S. Skvernelis only have a working relationship. “We were colleagues – he was the leader, once began to work in Trakai, afterward in the Police Department, but we are not friends, we have an exclusively work relationship,” he stated.

Well-wishing for the public

As Seimas Law and Law Enforcement Committee (TTK) vice chair, Stasys Šedbaras of the Conservatives told Delfi, it should be the officials’ capacity to perform in their new position that should decide whether it is right to appoint former companions to responsible posts.

“When I became minister [1998-1999 he was minister of the interior], my first visit was to the academics, to the university and I invited at least one vice minister from that environment, though we were not acquainted. Thus it would appear that naturally the idea arises – you invite those to offices upon which your own evaluation depends, who you know and trust most,” he explained.

According to the politician it is better to offer responsible posts to individuals, whose work you perhaps know better, than trust the posts based on party dependence.

However speaking of how increasingly many posts are handed to former officers, S. Šedbaras observed potential threats.

“This is somewhat a cause for concern. Overall political culture says that officers can become politicians, but normally there is a “cool-down period”. Here, however we have a situation where one goes from commissar to minister and then to prime minister from there. When people go quickly to such offices from the special services, suspicions can arise, justified or not, that they may use some of the acquaintances and information that they had, which could be greater than that of other pretenders. This aspect exists,” the vice chair of the TTK said.

“If a critical mass from one segment clearly rises without a cool-down period, then without a doubt questions can arise. Hopefully the public will not have to feel this,” S. Šedbaras stressed.

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