Presidential advisers resign after reports of suspicious real estate deals surface

  • 2006-03-08
  • By TBT staff

 MORTGAGE IT: Unlike his advisers, President Valdas Adamkus, together with his wife Alma, prefers shopping for houses on a much smaller scale.

VILNIUS - Two advisers to President Valdas Adamkus resigned this week amid allegations that they had purchased houses in a prestigious Vilnius suburb at prices lower than the market value. Adamkus accepted the resignations from national security adviser Rytis Muraska and foreign policy adviser Edminas Bagdonas, who reportedly moved into houses in the Turniskes area just recently.

"I am firmly convinced that the members of my team have demonstrated a stance common in democratic societies and a shining example to Lithuanian politicians of how public servants, the transparency of whose activity raises doubts, must act," the president said in a televised address to the nation on March 7. The words were a veiled jibe at Vilnius Mayor Arturas Zuokas, who last year refused to resign despite calls from the president. Leading politicians, including Adamkus, have called for an ethics investigation into the deals, and it is likely that an ad hoc parliamentary commission would be formed in the upcoming days. Bagdonas and Muraska have claimed that Adamkus knew of the deals, that they committed no violations and called on the Chief Official Ethics Commission for an independent assessment into the transactions.

Parliamentary Chairman Arturas Paulauskas told journalists on March 7 that the president had requested that a parliamentary commission be formed to probe the deals. In Paulauskas' words, Adamkus also asked for the commission to scrutinize activities by the public utilities company that manages all state-owned property in Turniskes.

The presidential residence in the suburb was reportedly pledged as collateral to Hansabankas for loans of up to 6 million litas (1.74 million euros). The Lietuvos Rytas daily wrote that the price paid by the presidential advisers for the Turniskes houses was lower than market value.

Muraska and Bagdonas said that by resigning, they hoped to prevent any possible political interpretations and assessments that could undermine Adamkus' moral authority and his policy.

Both Bagdonas and Muraska claimed that the president had known about the matter, and that they did not violate laws.

Meanwhile, Algirdas Monkevicius, head of the Parliament's commission on ethics and procedures, said it was imperative to set up a commission. "I cannot imagine what's more incompatible with ethics that the use of authority for selfish purposes," the MP was quoted as saying. "In my opinion, the presidential advisers have lost confidence and Valdas Adamkus should be principled in this case."

Politicians agreed that the matter could not be brushed aside. As Homeland Union leader Andrius Kubilius said, "Although there may be no criminal deed in their actions, this does not contribute to belief in transparency and decency for sure. The advisers should also have thought that they would cast a shadow over the president."

Viktor Uspaskich, leader of the Labor Party who has been known to criticize the president, was quoted as saying, "The involvement of the President's Office in the real estate scandal has caused extensive harm to the president's moral name."

Uspaskich, who was fired from his position as economy minister last year, hinted that the degree of culpability was tremendous. "I cannot understand how such plots are possible under disguise of the state leader. This has been committed by those who are selected to be entrusted with highly confidential state information," he said in a press release.

"Events of the past days prove that disguise under the name of the President's Office allows vague activities, which even violate the law. What is worse that it is done by persons who should carry big responsibility before Lithuania," he said.