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2020.03.05 12:05

Lithuania's intelligence chief denies intimidating presidential candidate

Ignas Jačauskas, BNS 2020.03.05 12:05

Lithuania's intelligence chief says he did warn a former presidential candidate about Russia-linked people in his circle, but denies there was any intimidation.

The comments of Darius Jauniškis, the director of the State Security Department (VSD), comes in the wake of a leaked report alleging that the VSD leadership ordered to collect information about several presidential candidates and their campaign teams in the run-up to last year's election.

Read more: Whistleblower claims Lithuania's intelligence investigated president's campaign

These included now President Gitanas Nausėda and Lithuania's former foreign minister and long-time diplomat Vygaudas Ušackas.

Jauniškis told delfi.lt that he spoke to Ušackas before the diplomat announced his decision to run in the primaries of the conservative Homeland Union–Lithuanian Christian Democrats for the 2019 presidential election.

“I personally spoke to him when he was not yet a candidate and told him that some people in his circle were linked to Russian special services. I was just trying to warn him,” he said.

“I am not denying that these facts may have occurred [and that there may have been] phone calls to talk to people from his circle in an effort to warn them, possibly during the election campaign,” he said.

Read more: Lithuanian president warns against spreading ‘unsubstantiated’ claims about intelligence services

On Wednesday, reports emerged that an unnamed high-ranking intelligence officer had approached members of parliament and law-enforcement officials, saying that in 2018-2019 he was instructed to collect information people in the campaigns of Nausėda and Ušackas.

However, Jauniškis categorically denies that his agency collected information about these people.

Commenting on the reports, Ušackas told BNS on Wednesday that VSD officials contacted and intimidated his team members before the presidential election to deter them from taking part in the campaign.

“As to intimidation – if there was any intimidation, there must be some evidence [...]. Is an a phone call from an officer intimidation? Maybe it can be interpreted that way,” Jauniškis told delfi.lt.

He said that the VSD would conduct an internal probe into the situation, regardless of whether a parliamentary inquiry into the whistleblower's information is launched.

Jauniškis, whose term as the VSD director ends in April, said that despite the scandal he was ready to continue his work “if the state needs my services”.

No pressure on whistleblower

Responding to allegations that the VSD tried to intimidate the whistleblower, Jauniškis told reporters on Thursday that his deputy, Remigijus Bridikis, met with the man. However, there was no pressure, he insisted.

“Last night, I learned about my deputy's conversation with [...] the officer who informed him that he had the whistleblower status. I have just received official information about the officer's whistleblower status,” Jauniškis told reporters on Thursday.

“I want to assure you that we at the VSD comply with all laws, so there can be no questioning or any other kind of pressure on the whistleblower,” he added.

According to Jauniškis, the officer has asked for vacation, but the service will make the decision after clarifying legal circumstances.