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2019.10.23 09:00

Belarusian investments in Lithuania come with strings attached, Seimas security committee warns

LRT TV naujienų tarnyba, LRT.lt2019.10.23 09:00

Investment from Belarusian companies seeking to expand their operations in Lithuania may come with strings attached, the Lithuanian parliament's Committee on National Security and Defence (NSGK) insists. At the same time, Belarusian export stream running through Klaipėda sea port ensures profits for Lithuanian private and state-owned companies. 

“We are seeing a trend of companies connected with Belarus reaching into [various] Lithuanian sectors,” said Laurynas Kasčiūnas, vice-chairman of the NSGK.

According to him, companies that secure government contracts in Belarus are usually closely linked to the Minks regime.

The state-owned Belarusian fertilizer manufacturer Belaruskali, which co-owns the company Birių Krovinių Terminalas (Bulk Cargo Terminal, or BKT) jointly with Lithuanian national Igor Udovickij, who took part in funding Lithuania’s ruling party election campaign, wants to export more fertilizers via the port of Klaipėda.

In October, the Lithuanian government allowed BKT to acquire Nemuno Terminalas in Klaipėda.

“The acquisition [of Nemuno Terminalas] will make it possible for [BKT] to increase their territory and fertilizer exports,” said Lithuanian Transport and Communications Minister Jaroslav Narkevič earlier in October after a trip to Belarus, where he also visited the Great Stone industrial park, a Chinese-Belarusian project under construction near Minsk.

Read more: Lithuanian hardline on Belarus cracks with China’s investment push

According to Narkevič, Lithuania is interested in preventing Belarusian shipments from being diverted to Latvian ports.

A third of all cargo passing through Lithuania’s Klaipėda port now comes from Belarus, and various companies, including the state-owned Lithuanian Railways, reap hefty profits from Belarus’ exports.

The freight from Belarus is also due to increase following China’s growing investments across the border from Lithuania.

However, members of parliament and the NSGK want the government commission to reevaluate the expansion of Belarus’ BKT in Klaipėda. This week, the NSGK summoned Lithuanian Government Vice-Chancellor Alminas Mačiulis who greenlit the deal.

Mačiulis declined to give further details.

The same government commission did not object another company tied to Belarusian and Russian markets, Alvora, constructing the Lithuanian-Polish gas connector that will link the gas exchange systems between the Baltic states and Finland.

NSGK chairman Dainius Gaižauskas said that the government is managing risks, but he had questions about the commission’s approach to national security.

After announcing a public tender for the almost 100-million-euro Lithuanian-Polish pipeline project, Lithuania’s natural gas operator, Amber Grid, received bids from several companies, including from Spain, Greece and Israel.

Due to threats to national security, Belarusian Beltruboprovodstroy was removed from the tendering process. Later, Alvora and Šiaulių dujotiekio statyba, which also have experience working on energy projects in Belarus and Russia, was awarded the contract.

However, a bidder from Lithuania, MT Group, appealed the decision to the Public Procurement Office and the courts, quoting alleged threats to national security and bid evaluation discrepancies.

Vytautas Bakas, a member of the NSGK, says it is puzzling that Western-capital firms do not compete for big government projects aimed at connecting Lithuania with the West and that so many companies tied to Russian markets win those contracts.

“It’s similar to when a competition is announced for a public service job, and a single person applies for the job that offers a high salary, an office, and a car,” he said.

“We are at the start of a certain path, we’re seeing huge pressure on decision-makers.”

Members of the NSGK claimed that if certain conditions arose, the government committee could freeze the contracts awarded to Belarusian companies.