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2019.04.10 13:53

Russia's investigation of Lithuanian judges a 'revenge' foreign minister says

Saulius Jakučionis, BNS2019.04.10 13:53

Russian investigators have opened a criminal case into Lithuanian judges who convicted dozens of Russians involved in a 1991 Soviet crackdown. Lithuania's foreign minister called the move an act of “revenge” and the situation “deplorable”.

Four judges who issued the ruling in the so-called January 13 case are suspected of “deliberately delivering an unjust verdict”, Russia's Investigative Committee said on Wednesday.

“I could also call it some sort of revenge,” Lithuania's Foreign Minister Linas Linkevičius told BNS on Wednesday. “It's difficult to evaluate it in any way, since this is a deplorable situation.”

Russia's Investigative Committee launched an investigation against the judges of Vilnius Regional Court Aiva Survilienė, Virginija Pakalnytė-Tamošiūnaitė and Artūras Šumskas, and also against Ainora Kornelija Macevičienė, the retired chair of the judicial panel.

The probe follows the court's ruling in late March finding 67 Russian, Belarusian and Ukrainian citizens guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity in the January 13.

They were handed prison sentences ranging from four to 14 years. The majority of them were sentenced in absentia as Russia and Belarus refused to extradite them.

According to Linkevičius, Russia “should realize that even though many years have passed, justice must prevail and that there's no statute of limitations for such cases”.

The named judges are advised to refrain from trips to Russia or Russia-friendly countries since “they can expect provocations or various other actions there”, the minister said.

Linkevičius added that the Lithuanian government would turn to international organizations.

“We will take care of that protection as much as possible. (…) Those people related to the case, not only the judges, all of them should act carefully,” Linkevičius said.

Russia's Investigative Committee has also charged former Lithuanian prosecutor Simonas Slapšinskas, who used to work on the January 13 massacre case, with “unlawful prosecution of Russian citizens”. Now a lawyer, Slapšinskas called the charges “political persecution”.

Russia's representatives say the Lithuanian judges ruled that “there is no possibility to precisely identify which defendants' actions led to the most serious consequences”, ie deaths or injuries.

Svetlana Petrenko, spokeswoman for the Russian committee, says the judges thus grossly violated the principles of criminal law, since all doubts should be viewed in defendants' favour.

Fourteen civilians were killed and hundreds more were wounded when Soviet troops stormed the TV Tower and the Radio and Television Committee building in Vilnius in the early hours of January 13, 1991.

The Soviet government used military force in its attempt to remove the legitimate government in Lithuania after it declared the republic independent from the Soviet Union on March 11, 1990.