VILNIUS - Belarusian customs officials and the KGB have detained Laimonas Bankauskas, the 37-year old chief of the Vilnius Mounted Police, for 10 days with a possible prolongation of up to two months under suspicion that he transported 45.5 grams of the synthetic drug methamphetamine in his car. Bankauskas is being kept in a Belarusian prison now. He can receive from three to seven years’ imprisonment, according to the Belarusian laws. The detention took place in the Kamenny Log checkpoint on Aug. 15 when Bankauskas was entering Belarus, according to Bankauskas family members.
The mother-in-law and wife of the detained official deny the charges and say a package with narcotics had been planted on him. Belarusian officials say that he was detained when he was leaving Belarus on Aug. 16. The event provoked wide-spread speculation about an intended provocation by Minsk or Moscow secret services though, of course, the real guilt of the Lithuanian cop is also a possibility.
Kestutis Lancinskas, head of the Vilnius County Police, held a press conference on Aug. 18, expressing doubts about the Belarusian KGB accusations against Bankauskas. “The quantity of drugs is too small for wholesale and too big for retail. It is a strange quantity. Bankauskas was a good working professional. He started his work in the police as a simple patrol officer in 1991. He loved his work and horses,” Lancinskas said.
Bankauskas is married to a Belarusian-origin Lithuanian citizen whose parents live in Minsk. Her father is a former Soviet army officer who later became a businessman selling computers. “Maybe it was done now because relations between Lithuania and Belarus have become warmer,” Tatjana Bankauskiene, wife of the detained policeman, told LNK TV.
According to her, he went to Belarus for cheaper gasoline before the long-distance family holiday trip from Vilnius to the Lithuanian seaside resort of Palanga. The car was searched by six persons - not only by customs officials but also by KGB officers, which is unusual practice. The package with drugs under the car’s seat was found by an official, not by an official’s dog, which was also present. At the moment of the finding, Bankauskas stood outside his car behind the opened hood of the car. After the announcement about the found drugs, no further search of the car was continued, according to Bankauskiene. She thinks that the drugs could have been planted in her husband’s car a week before the event, when Bankauskas made a similar trip to Belarus, when his car was then searched extremely carefully by dismantling some interior details of the car at the Belarusian checkpoint.
Immediately after the news about the detention, Lithuanian Internet sites suggested that the drugs may have been planted in his car by the Belarusian KGB in an attempt to recruit him. However, there can be more reasons for this Belarusian KGB action.
It is possible that it was done by Moscow agents in the Belarusian secret service. There is big pro-Russian sentiment in Belarus, while Russia undoubtedly has its agents in all structures of the Belarusian nomenclature. Now the business-minded Kremlin bosses have gotten fed up with sponsoring Belarus’ dictator, Alexander Lukashenko, and have launched a propaganda war against him expecting revolt in the pro-Russian part of the Belarusian nomenclature. Lukashenko will organize presidential elections next year, while Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin would be glad to return to the throne as Russian president in 2012, after some kind of soft conquest of Belarus. Lukashenko’s talks with Lithuania about construction of a Belarusian liquid gas terminal near Klaipeda and transportation of Venezuelan oil to Belarus via Klaipeda as an alternative for Russian supplies to Belarus probably makes the Kremlin a little bit nervous and willing to spoil Vilnius-Minsk relations.
However, the Bankauskas case could also be the usual psychotic game by Lukashenko. On Aug. 15, Gazprom-owned Russian NTV stated that Lukashenko had been diagnosed as a “mosaic psychopath” (this NTV documentary was banned in Belarus by state censorship, but it is widely watched in Belarus via the Internet). Lukashenko is unpredictable indeed and Bankauskas can be used as hostage for some trade in future Vilnius-Minsk negotiations. The finding of narcotics in cars of persons important for neighboring countries is nothing new in Belarus. In 2006, narcotics were found by Belarusian customs officials in the car of Andzelika Borys, the Warsaw-supported leader of the Polish-Belarusian community, who was not loyal to Lukashenko. Minsk, as well as Moscow, considers foreign policy as a secret service operation, and there is not much hope about civilized ethics while having contacts with those two authoritarian neighbors of Lithuania.
However, Bankauskas’ situation is not hopeless due to recently improved Vilnius-Minsk relations: On Aug. 25, President Dalia Grybauskaite stated that she expects “good news” soon regarding this case.
This is not the first strange story with a Lithuanian official in Belarus. In 2006, Vytautas Pociunas, Lithuanian state security officer who worked in the Lithuanian consulate in Grodno, died in mysterious circumstances by falling from a window of a hotel in Brest. The Lithuanian Prosecutor’s Office, under pressure from Pociunas’ widow and public opinion, renewed the investigation of this case for the third time.