ECHR throws out ex-Lithuanian PM's privacy lawsuit over disclosed phone conversation

  • 2022-06-14
  • BNS/TBT Staff

VILNIUS - State institutions did not violate the right to private life and correspondence when they disclosed one of the then Prime Minister Algirdas Butkevicius' phone conversation to the media, the European Court of Human Rights has ruled on Tuesday.

"Taking into account that the disclosed information had not been related to any of the applicant’s private issues, and in the absence of any severe individual consequences, any restriction on the applicant’s right to respect for his private life had been proportionate," the court ruled.

It also stated that if "his reputation among his colleagues was affected by the disclosure of his telephone conversation, there are no factual grounds, let alone evidence, which he has put forward that would indicate that such an effect was so substantial as to have constituted a disproportionate interference with his rights guaranteed by Article 8 of the Convention".

In 2015, the Kaunas Regional Prosecutor’s Office and the Special Investigation Service were carrying out a pre-trial investigation into allegations of political corruption relating to the process whereby some state territories had had their status as resorts. The probe was related to the high profile Vijunele Manor case.

As part of the investigation, the court sanctioned the recording of telephone conversations of Ricardas Malinauskas, mayor of Lithuania's southern resort town of Druskininkai. One of his intercepted phone conversations was with the then Prime Minister Algirdas Butkevicius and the two discussed the adoption of a government resolution on the status of resorts.

In February, 2016, the prosecutor dropped the pre-trial investigation, and the prosecutor’s decision contained transcripts of the telephone conversation between Butkevicius and Malinauskas.

On the same day, complying with the earlier request from the Seimas Anti-Corruption Commission, the prosecutor sent the commission a copy of the decision to discontinue the criminal proceedings.

On March 1, 2016 the Seimas Anti-Corruption Commission held a hearing which was open to the public. Some twenty journalists were present at that hearing. Later that day, a Lithuanian news website published an article featuring details on the above-mentioned and other phone conversations.

Later on, Butrkevicius, lodged a complaint with the prosecutor general, asking that the persons responsible for disclosing to the media the information which was of restricted use be brought to justice.

Lithuanian courts, however, failed to back the former prime minister. By a final ruling of March 20, 2017, the Vilnius Regional Court rejected Butkeviciu' appeal and left the first-instance court’s decision unchanged, ruling that the disclosed information had been linked to the professional activity of a state official. Butkevicius had been a public figure because of the duties he had been performing at the relevant time, as he prime minister, the court said.

In his complaint with the ECHR, Butkevicius claimed that the disclosure of his telephone conversation had had an impact on his political life and elections.

The ECHR ruled, however, that the disclosure of his conversation did not lead to ay negative consequences for Butkevicius, like his dismissal as prime minister, legal consequences or some other applied sanctions.

The ECHR accepted the politician's argument that the disclosure of his phone conversation had an impact on It does not dispute his statements that he suffered negative experiences when communicating with others after the transcript of the telephone conversation had been disclosed by the media.

The court also has regard to the government’s argument that the aforementioned government resolution had been annulled, so that any associated flaws were eliminated from the Lithuanian legal system.

"In the court’s view, this gives weight to the government’s argument that the press had a right to learn of and report a possible wrongdoing," the ECHR stated.

Butkevicius served as Lithuania's prime minister in 2012-2016.