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2020.03.04 13:22

Whistleblower claims Lithuania's intelligence investigated president's campaign

BNS2020.03.04 13:22

A whistleblower alleges that Lithuania's intelligence secretly collected information about several presidential candidates' campaigns during last year's election, including members of the current president's staff.

According to a report by an unnamed high-ranking intelligence officer, the State Security Department (VSD) investigated members and sponsors of President Gitanas Nausėda's campaign as well as the other candidate, Vygaudas Ušackas.

The whistleblower handed his report to the then chairman of the parliamentary National Security and Defence Committee in April 2019, a month before the election, but the parliament then refused to launch an investigation.

The VSD has strongly rejected claims in the report.

Whistleblower

The identity of the intelligence officer who compiled the report has been withheld under his own request. The document shows that he might be given a whistleblower status.

The report describes three episodes in which the VSD collected information about politicians, businesspeople and other individuals involved in Nausėda's election campaign, including current members the president's team.

In February, MP Vytautas Bakas, who chaired the National Security and Defence Committee at the time, asked the Board of the Seimas to set up a temporary investigation commission to look into “alleged unlawful interference with election processes, unlawful collection and use of information”. However, the board decided against launching an investigation.

Nausėda's team in focus

According to the intelligence officer, in July 2018 he was instructed by VSD Deputy Director Remigijus Bridikis to collect information about one of the presidential candidate's team members and businesspeople who would be asked to support the election campaign.

The officer claims he was asked to run their names through the VSD's databases and submit the report personally to the agency's director Darius Jauniškis.

The list included Nausėda's campaign head and now Chancellor of the Presidential Office Algė Budrytė, political scientists Linas Kojala and Mindaugas Jurkynas, composer Giedrius Kuprevičius, filmmaker Arūnas Matelis, artist Jurgis Didžiulis, businessman and politician Aivaras Abromavičius, philosophers Vytautas Rubavičius and Mindaugas Kubilius, and businessmen Ilja Laurs and Vladas Lašas.

Another list included over 40 businesspeople, such as Mindaugas Raila, the board chairman of the Girteka Logistics business group, Dainius Dundulis, the main shareholder of the Norfa business group, Rokiškio Sūris CEO Dalius Trumpa, Grigeo owner Gintautas Pangonis, and Tautvydas Barštys, board chairman of KG Group.

According to the officer, Bridikis said it was “a top secret task”, and several days later the collected information was submitted to Jauniškis.

“The director [Jauniškis] told me at the end of the conversation that he would not give ‘Him’ full information and would only identify people who were bad,” the report states, without disclosing any names.

President's staff on the list

According to the whistleblower, in January 2019, Bridikis informed him about a new task, ordered by Jauniškis, to collect information about over 60 members in Nausėda's team, including the president's current chief adviser Povilas Masiulis and Aistis Zabarauskas.

The list also included actor Juozas Budraitis, journalist Vytaras Radzevičius, lawyer Tomas Davulis, MP Valerijus Simulik, former basketball player, businessman and politician Tomas Pačėsas. They were all part of Nausėda's circle during the election campaign.

Nausėda officially announced his decision to run for president in September 2018 and introduced his campaign members in February 2019.

He was elected Lithuania's president in May 2019 and assumed the office in July.

Dirt on another candidate

The document alleges that the VSD also collected information about former diplomat Vygaudas Ušackas, who was hoping to be the presidential candidate of the the Homeland Union – Lithuanian Christian Democrats.

Ušackas was competing with several other candidates for the nomination and eventually lost to MP Ingrida Šimonytė.

According to the whistleblower, he was told in September 2018 by Bridikis that “it was necessary” to back Ušackas' political opponent MP Žygimantas Pavilionis by means of “information that would prove Ušackas to be pro-Russian”.

The conversation allegedly occurred on the same day as the Homeland Union's supervision committee gathered to discuss Pavilionis' statements on Ušackas. By then, Pavilionis had already announced his decision not withdraw from the primaries.

Violation of neutrality

The whistleblower believes intelligence leadership might have violated the principles of legitimacy and political neutrality.

Law enforcement has refused to comment on whether an investigation has been launched in response to this information.

Chief Prosecutor Evaldas Pašilis said earlier that his office took “an appropriate decision” under the whistleblowers' protection law, but would not confirm or deny that the whistleblower status was granted in this case.

Last month, Bakas turned to the Board of the Seimas, proposing to carry out a parliamentary investigation. The former National Security and Defence Committee chairman said he turned to law enforcement back in early 2019, but did not receive any clear answer on what would be done.

Last week, the Board of the Seimas decided against initiating a parliamentary investigation based on the Committee's recommendation. Dainius Gaižauskas, the current National Security and Defence Committee chairman, said he listened to chiefs of law enforcement agencies and concluded that the report on allegedly unlawful collection of information was incorrect and “there was probably no crime”.

Nausėda told reporters on February 26 that he met with the prosecutor general and the Special Investigation Service and “had an in-depth look into the situation”. In the president's view, the Board of the Seimas made the right decision not to initiate a parliamentary investigation.

‘Strongly deny’

Lithuania's State Security Department on Wednesday rejected allegations that it collected information on members of Nausėda's and Ušackas' campaigns.

“We strongly deny the information that appeared in the media. The VSD definitely did not collect and provide any information on the mentioned individuals,” Aurelija Katkuvienė, a spokeswoman for the VSD, told BNS.

“The VSD's activities are strictly regulated and are performed under the existing laws. During the election, the VSD was tasked with monitoring and assessing foreign countries' influence on the election process,” she said.

Katkuvienė also emphasised that the report was checked by law enforcement agencies that saw no crime.

“We have no doubt the Special Investigation Service and the prosecution service evaluated this information and it was refuted,” the VSD spokeswoman said.