Health care vice minister arrested

  • 2010-01-27
  • By Rokas M. Tracevskis

VILNIUS - On Jan. 21, Health Care Vice Minister Arturas Skikas was arrested by the Special Investigation Service, which carries out activities to detect and disclose corruption-related offenses such as corruption, bribery and abuse of power. There are reports that the Health Care Ministry is sinking in a bloodbath of corruption. The corruption case could be related to bribes for allowing illegal trade of donors’ blood. There is the expectation of more political corpses flowing out of the Health Care Ministry.

“I took no bribe,” Skikas said to journalists on Jan. 21 when the Special Investigation Service’s officials, wearing masks on their faces, were pushing him out of his office. The arrest was done immediately after Vytenis Kalibatas, director of the National Blood Center, left Skikas’ office. According to media reports, the Special Investigation Service officials found an envelope with 20,000 litas (5,790 euros) in Skikas’ office. At the moment, there is a court sanction to keep Skikas in custody for 14 days.
Several years ago, the Special Investigation Service and the Financial Crime Investigation Service started to investigate activity at the National Blood Center suspecting that the center’s leadership was making millions of litas illegally by selling blood plazma to German companies made from blood which is donated by Lithuanians for free. The investigation is pending slowly because German businessmen are reluctant to cooperate.

On Jan. 22, President Dalia Grybauskaite received Zimantas Pacevicius, director of the Special Investigation Service, in the presidential office. “The president has not ruled out the possibility that the question of responsibility at the highest political level will be raised,” Linas Balsys, spokesman for Grybauskaite, said after the meeting. It means that current Health Care Minister Algis Caplikas, member of the Liberal Centrists, may be forced to resign.

On Jan. 18, Skikas and some other high officials took part in the anti-corruption theme meeting taking place in the Justice Ministry. Skikas made a passionate speech demanding the fight against bribe taking. Pacevicius was among the listeners.
On Jan. 22, Parliament Speaker Irena Degutiene emphasized that the Health Care Ministry was given to the Liberal Centrists and they should take responsibility for wrongdoings in that ministry. Skikas was a member of the Liberal Centrists. The current ruling coalition consists of the Homeland Union - Lithuanian Christian Democrats, the Liberal Union, the Liberal Centrists, and the National Resurrection Party. The coalition has only 71 seats in the 141-seat Lithuanian parliament.

The Homeland Union - Lithuanian Christian Democrats invited the United Lithuania faction, having 11 MPs, to join the coalition. On Jan. 23, the United Lithuania faction joined the Lithuanian Christian Conservative Social Union and formed a party named the Christian Party. The party’s leader became Gediminas Vagnorius, former Lithuanian prime minister in 1991-1992 and 1996-1999. This former political heavyweight was No. 2 (after Vytautas Landsbergis) in the Conservative Party, predecessor of the Homeland Union - Lithuanian Christian Democrats. The latter’s coalition with the newly-born Christians could be difficult because of personal tensions between Vagnorius and Prime Minister Andrius Kubilius. Any expansion of the current ruling coalition could cause some reshuffling of posts of ministers in the government. The position of Health Care Minister Caplikas was considered to be one of the weaker ones in the current government. On Jan. 26, the Special Investigation Service questioned him as a witness in the Skikas case.