What’s at stake for MP Vytautas Gapšys?

Vytautas Gapšys
DELFI / Karolina Pansevič

At least this is what Justas Laucius, the prosecutor in charge of the investigation, alluded to last week when he made a presentation to a parliamentary commission which will consider the request by the Prosecutor General’s Office to strip MP Vytautas Gapšys legal immunity.

Gapšys, who is the first deputy chairman of the Labour Party and heads its election headquarters, is suspected of having accepted a €25,000 bribe from MG Baltic in exchange for political favours. Law enforcement officers conducted searches in Gapšys’ home and office last May.

Gapšys has rejected accusations against him, but if he is proven guilty, the MP faces up to eight years in prison and could not hope for leniency, since he has already been convicted in an unrelated case for doctoring his party’s books.

So far, however, Gapšys is shielded from prosecution by his legal immunity as a member of parliament and can only be questioned as a special witness. An ad-hoc parliamentary commission is to consider evidence against Gapšys and draft recommendations, to be put to a plenary vote, whether to strip him of his immunity.

Which is why Laucius, a prosecutor from the Prosecutor General’s Office, spent two hours last Wednesday relating the case against Gapšys to the commission.

“Gapšys’ actions named in the Prosecutor General’s appeal to the Seimas [parliament] display clear sings of serious corruption crimes that are defined in the Criminal Code as large-scale bribery and influence peddling,” Laucius said.

Gapšys himself has dismissed suspicions against him, accusing prosecutors of political witch-hunting, and insists he would not willingly give up his legal immunity in order to defend his name in court.

“It is an MP’s job to talk to citizens, to talk to representatives from business, from labour unions. It is not a crime,” Gapšys says.

The ad-hoc Seimas commission is chaired by MP Kęstas Komskis, member of the Order and Justice party, a coalition partner of Gapšys’ Labour Party.

He explains that the evidence presented by prosecutors involves records of numerous conversations between Gapšys and MG Baltic vice-president Kurlianskis during the time when the Seimas was discussing the reconstruction of the road Vilnius-Utena and was voting on amendments to the corporate tax law.

Komskis says that before the commission can make a decision, he wants to make sure that the conversation tapes do exist and to see what is in them.

“We were told there are nine or 10 tapes, that he [Gapšys] was under watch. We would like to study at least one episode which supports allegations against Gapšys,” Komskis said.

Kurlianskis’ attorney has said politicians themselves would approach the vice-president of MG Baltic, one of the biggest business groups in Lithuania.

Conservative MP Kęstas Masiulis, who represents the opposition in the Seimas commission, notes that Gapšys, too, has failed to produce any evidence supporting his claim that the case against him is politically motivated.

“The prosecutor’s evidence is the only one we’ve got. The arguments presented are grave, they include detailed accounts of particular episodes,” Masiulis says.

Meanwhile the commission’s chairman Komskis is planning to meet Prosecutor General Evaldas Pašilius and ask to have access to the recordings themselves.

“We are dealing with sealed information here, so they might say that only the commission’s chair is allowed to listen to the recordings,” Komskis wonders.

Moreover, Komskis says he will ask for the general prosecutor’s explanation about charges against other members of the ruling coalition, although that would fall outside the purview of the commission he chairs.

“They are making accusations against the entire ruling majority. Someone has vested interest in humiliating, crushing it? In showing that the entire coalition is bad and corrupt. So we are looking into whether it’s true and who has something to gain. If it’s not politically-motivated persecution and politicking,” Komskis says.

He is referring to several criminal cases that involve his own party, Order and Justice, and its leaders.

In December 2015, prosecutors brought suspicions against Order and Justice of influence peddling and money laundering.

This March, the prosecutor general asked the European Parliament to revoke the legal immunity of the party’s leader, MEP Rolandas Paksas. He is suspected of influence peddling.

Komskis is Paksas’ first deputy in the party and is now heading the commission which may seal the fate of Gapšys. The latter has already been convicted in a separate case where he was charged with doctoring the Labour Party’s books.

Liberal Eligijus Masiulis, who is also suspected of taking a bribe from MG Baltic, willingly surrendered his MP seat – and thus his legal immunity – immediately after suspicions were brought against him.

“These are two typical ways of behaviour of a Seimas member,” says LRT.lt editor-in-chief Vladimiras Laučius. “One is that of Masiulis, who gave up his MP mandate the minute there appeared a spot on his reputation and is using the way of the law to prove whether he is guilty or innocent. And the opposite way is the one established in Lithuania by the likes of [former Labour Party leader Viktor] Uspaskich and now continued by Gapšys, when there is not one or two spots on one’s reputation, but the entire reputation is submerged in mud, the spot hides everything else. And still the man continues to hide behind his MP immunity. Gapšys is thus discrediting the entire parliament. I’d say he’s discrediting the Labour Party, but there’s nothing left to discredit there.”

If the Seimas agrees to lift his immunity, Gapšys is facing jail time, provided that prosecutors present enough evidence to prove corrupt agreements between him and MG Baltic. Since Gapšys is facing criminal charges for the second time, the leniency clause for first-time offenders would no longer apply.

“He will not be eligible for the Criminal Code provision which says that first-time offenders in certain lighter crimes do not normally get jail sentences. This will not apply,” says Remigijus Merkevičius of Vilnius University’s Law Department.

Gapšys is facing up to eight years in prison. The parliament is scheduled to vote on his legal immunity on September 15.

But prosecutors have hinted that he is not the last member of parliament who may be implicated in the case.

“The Prosecutor General’s Office has more questions that members of the current Seimas could provide answers to – and I believe these questions will be asked in the nearest future,” Laucius, the prosecutor, said last week.

Update: Vytautas Gapšys announced on Monday evening that he will resign as member of parliament.

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