VILNIUS - The president of the Lithuanian Basketball Federation (LBF) has gotten off with a slap on the wrist after the Prosecutor General's Office (PGO) dropped its investigation into his comments calling black players from the U.S.A. "black assholes."
"The acts of Garastas do not include criminal elements because he was not told that he was being recorded by the journalist and therefore thought that he was being asked for his personal opinion," said Aurelija Juodyte, head of public relations at the PGO.
The case was brought to the PGO's attention by the Human Rights Monitoring Institute. Executive Director Henrikas Mickevicius told The Baltic Times that he was puzzled by the decision to drop the case.
"From what I have seen in the media, I think that this is a very strange decision. The question is whether he said the words or not. It is not about whether he knew he was being recorded or that he didn't know he was speaking to a journalist," he said.
Garastas allegedly thought he was being asked for his personal opinion rather than his official opinion because the journalist called him on his mobile phone and "was very nice and talkative."
The comments came after Garastas watched a club match.
"Now about the negro playing in Zalgiris, I would expel him immediately. Zygimantas Janavicius is twice as good as he is...Education, there's no education there, with only the black assholes playing," Kauno Diena daily cited Garastas as saying in late October.
The prosecutors agreed that the comments were rude, but did not incite racial hatred because they were not directed at the players on the basis of their skin color.
"After lexical analysis, it was determined that this word [black assholes] had a mocking meaning," Juodyte said.
One of the players targeted by the comments was furious when he found out about the LBF president's words.
"What the president said was very racist and I'm sure that the apology that was issued was fake. What he said was very offensive to myself and to my teammate and to African American players in the Lithuanian league. I think comments like that are unique in the world and I think these views are just disgusting. He embarrassed himself and his family and the Lithuanian people," Kaunas Zalgiris basketball club player Laurence Woods said.
"I want to say that all Lithuanians don't see things that way. There are great Lithuanian people out there and most of the contact I've had, has been with great people."
"This is the first time in my life when I've heard someone high up say something like this - something so racist. I wouldn't expect people high up in the Lithuanian community to come out and say something like that 's I'm just shocked," he added. Mickevicius thinks Garastas' apology was insufficient and that he should defend his posititon.
"He should explain himself [publicly] and qualify his words in legal terms. He has broken ethical rules, but I'm not sure about legal rules. We don't know if we will take this to a higher court."
Another reason the case was dropped was that the offended players' club, Kaunas Zalgiris basketball club, submitted a letter to the PGO that said they had no greivances with Garastas and that the case should be dropped.
The club refused to comment on the issue, but confirmed that they had sent the letter to the PGO asking to drop the case, adding that "not everyone is happy, but we received the president's [Garastas'] apology and that's it."
The pretrial investigation was into a potential public instigation against a group of another nationality or other people on the grounds of their race, nationality and origin.
The prosecutors decided that Garastas' remark was not intended to publicly humiliate, debase or instigate hate against black individuals because of their race.