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2019.10.17 13:00

Lithuanian parliament debates spy swap law

Vaidotas Beniušis, Milena Andrukaitytė, BNS2019.10.17 13:00

The Lithuanian parliament has started debating a draft amendment to the Criminal Code that would detail the president's right to pardon persons convicted of espionage.

The amendment would allow applying a presidential pardon if Lithuania reaches an agreement with a foreign country on the return of a Lithuanian citizen persecuted in that country for acting in Lithuania's state security interests.

Well-informed sources have confirmed to BNS that the Lithuanian State Defence Council, chaired by President Gitanas Nausėda, approved a spy swap deal with Russia last week.

The law amendment passed the first reading in the Seimas with 100 votes in favour and five abstentions on Thursday and is to return to the parliament for a plenary debate on October 22. It needs to be voted on three times to be adopted.

Sources have told BNS that the draft amendment is related to a planned swap of convicts among Lithuania, Russia and Norway.

MP Dainius Gaižauskas, the initiator of the amendment, says it is necessary to clearly set out the law on presidential power to pardon a person when an agreement between two states is concerned.

However, some lawyers believe that the amendment is redundant because the existing legislation allows the president to release a convicted person from serving his or her sentence.

According to the Seimas Law Department, the existing law does not in any way limit the president's power to grant a pardon.

"We regard the legal regulation proposed in the draft amendment as redundant," it said.

Under the spy swap deal, Lithuania is to transfer Nikolai Filipchenko, a Russian Federal Security Service agent convicted two years ago, in exchange for Yevgeny Mataitis and Aristidas Tamošaitis, two Lithuanian citizens convicted in Russia in 2016.

The ageement also covers a Norwegian citizen sentenced in Russia and another Russian citizen, according to the sources.

Lithuania's talks with Norway and Russia on the spy swap took years to complete, they said.

Filipchenko was detained by Lithuanian officials while travelling from the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad to Belarus.

In July 2017, Vilnius Regional Court convicted Filipchenko, identified as an officer of the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB), of espionage. According to the court, the Russian man used forged documents to conceal his identity.

According to Lithuania's intelligence officials, it was the first time that a sworn officer of the Russian security service had been detained in Lithuania on spying charges.

Lithuanian law-enforcement officials then said that Filipchenko had sought to recruit officers from Lithuania's VIP Protection Department to bug the office and home of the then President Dalia Grybauskaitė. There were no comments on the information following the court ruling.

Tamošaitis was sentenced to 12 years in prison by a Moscow court in March 2016. In April of the same year, a Kaliningrad court handed a 13-year prison sentence to Mataitis, a dual Lithuanian-Russian citizen.

Moscow says both men carried out Lithuanian military intelligence tasks. Lithuanian officials never commented on links with these individuals.