VILNIUS - Rumors of corruption in the Seimas (Lithuania's parliament) took a new turn this week when transcripts of mobile telephone conversations between three prominent MPs and the director of a powerful business conglomerate were released to the public.
On the evening of July 16, the parliamentary anti-corruption commission voted to release records of the conversations, which had been recorded and placed in the custody of the Seimas by the Special Investigation Service.
While decidedly less colorful than the expletive-filled exchanges that eventually led to the impeachment of former President Rolandas Paksas, the transcripts reveal a pattern of abuse and negligence that many speculate will bring down the political careers of the three public officials.
In conjunction with other investigative materials released by the commission, the conversations attest that Deputy Parliamentary Chairman Vytenis Andriukaitis, a leader in the ruling Social Democrat party, held frequent meetings with Andrius Janukonis, CEO of the Rubicon Group conglomerate.
Evidence points to the possibility that Andriukaitis received 95,000 litas (27,500 euros) in bribe money in five installments. The largest payment – 25,000 litas paid on May 20, 2003 – was given to him in exchange for changes he rammed through in the national heating law.
Records also show that Andriukaitis met with Janukonis on a regular basis in venues ranging from outside the Seimas building to Janukonis' home.
In one recorded telephone call dated Nov. 11, 2002, Andriukaitis tells Janukonis he "needs a little bit of direct help" to convince Prime Minister Algirdas Brazauskas and Economy Minister Petras Cesna of changes in tariffs for electricity grids. Janukonis immediately responds, "Yes, yes…no question, no question… there's no question."
Two other lawmakers – Vytautas Kvietkauskas of the New Union-Social Liberals and Arvydas Vidziunas of the Lithuanian Conservatives-Homeland Union – were captured in equally compromising situations.
According to the evidence, Kvietkauskas received a total of 25,000 litas in five installments that were often brought to him by one of Janukonis' security guards. In addition to supposedly fixing laws in Rubicon's favor, Kvietkauskas allegedly asked Janukonis for permission to invest his personal funds in the construction of Vilnius' Ozo Arena.
Vidziunas, who is also being accused of changing the national heating law in return for a bribe worth 40,000 litas, was recorded thanking Janukonis for the "portion" he had received.
Following the publication of the sensitive material, Seimas leaders agreed to call a special parliamentary session to begin in mid-August with the intent of taking punitive measures against Andriukaitis, Kvietkauskas and Vidziunas.
On July 13, the Seimas voted to retain the legal immunity enjoyed by all three MPs, thwarting prosecutors' attempts to press criminal charges against them.
The fate of the allegedly corrupt lawmakers will depend largely on the conclusions made by the parliamentary anti-corruption commission, which is scheduled to issue a final report with disciplinary recommendations by Aug. 2.
"We will continue to work with the aim of reaching the deadline. As for what action should be taken against them, I can't make a statement at this time, since there is still a lot of material that we have to get from the investigators," said Nijole Steibliene, chairwoman of the commission.
Steibliene defended her commission's decision to make public the previously classified information collected by the Special Investigation Service.
Leaks of transcripts related to the Paksas case last October were blamed for disrupting the process of parliamentary inquiry and adding a circus-like atmosphere to the worst scandal in the nation's post-independence history.
"I'm neither happy nor unhappy with the results of the decision. I've said it once and I'll say it again – if scores of MPs have already seen the material, it's no longer classified," Steibliene said.
None of the three lawmakers has admitted guilt, though on July 14 Andriukaitis renounced his parliamentary mandate in what he described as an attempt to clear his name.
Prosecutors have not ruled out the possibility of bringing criminal charges this autumn, when the Seimas is dissolved for elections and all MPs automatically lose their immunity from prosecution.
Meanwhile, a case against officials from Rubicon Group has already begun in the Vilnius District Court.