VILNIUS - The National Audit Office (NAO) has found in a recent audit that some of the country's courts used funds inappropriately. The organization is now calling for those responsible to be charged.
The office evaluated the results of financial audits performed at 67 common law courts and administrative courts and found that courts in Kaunas, Joniskis and Panevezys had allocated bonus payments to employees that were above acceptable levels.
The NAO claimed the employees of Kaunas district court, Panevezys administrative district court, Kaunas local court and Joniskis district local court, working according to employment contracts, were paid premiums and bonuses of over 500,000 litas (145,000 euros), which frequently exceeded the amount of their salaries, NAO Director of Communications, Orijana Jekimauskiene told TBT.
"The managers decide who gets the bonuses. These were not only judges, but also civil servants and people working under labor treaties 's people that aren't judges or civil servants, but they work in the court," Jekimauskiene said.
She played down the possibility of cronyism in the court.
"The background is that people are paid for extra work, but this is not due to friendship or special relations, but we believe that in some cases, it was not done on a legal basis."
Chairperson of the Judicial Council, which will rule on the case, Laima Garneliene told TBT the process of recovering the funds could be tricky.
"There will be a meeting of the chairmen of these courts in the parliament with the members of the judicial council and we will speak about the problem. Regarding the decisions of our audit office 's in these decisions, there is nothing said about the money returning officially in the decisions. We will speak about this."
By not writing the provision of having to return the money to the budget, those involved in the case will not need to appeal the decision.
"According to the law, they have the right to appeal this decision, but because there was nothing written about the returning of funds, they won't need to appeal. I don't know what to do because the time for appeal is already over."
"They have to give us the explanations about this money 's there might be some times where the courts broke the law and there would be grounds to return the money. On the last Friday of this month [May 29] we will meet to discuss the matter further," she said.
The Special Investigation Service (STT), the government arm for monitoring corruption, told TBT there is no investigation open in the matter and it is unlikely to investigate the matter.
"Even if there was some kind of crime, offense, it was not corruption crime, so it is not within STT's province," an STT representative told TBT.
The media spokesperson for the Minister of Justice told TBT that his ministry is not responsible for the mess.
"He said these things are not tolerated and it shouldn't be like that. He will talk during the meeting with the courts, but that's all he can do," spokesperson Vaida Vinceviciute said.
There are no checks on those responsible for allocating bonuses, which can be up to 70 percent of the wage of civil servants, for extra work.
"Usually it is the heads of the courts and this is the problem. Judges have legal immunity and administration responsibility. This is a problem," Jekimauskiene said.
Auditor General Rasa Budbergyte commanded the heads of the courts to eliminate the violations and to prosecute the guilty persons.
Part of the funds illegitimately used by courts has already been returned to the state budget. Jekimauskiene said that if the responsible people return the funds, the charges would be dropped.
"We hope that these courts will bring this money back and no more special procedures will be needed and there will be no need for prosecutors and they will bring it back on a voluntary basis."
Meanwhile, other courts in the country are without simple hygiene products in bathrooms.
A source told TBT that one court did not even have hand towels in the bathrooms.
"We don't have hand towels and I don't think we will have them any time soon," the source said.
Officials have cited the economic crisis as the reason for the lack of hygiene products.
Moreover, courts across Lithuania might have to work in the dark after the power grid distribution companies, RST and VST, follow through on threats to cut off the power for unpaid bills.
The problem, however, is not central and is up to the individual financial management of each court.
According to Garneliene, each court is an independent operator of appropriations, and therefore each must apply to the Finance Ministry for funding.