The miraculous liberation of Bankauskas

  • 2010-09-01
  • By Rokas M. Tracevskis

VILNIUS - On Aug. 15, the Belarusian KGB detained Laimonas Bankauskas, the 37-year old chief of the Vilnius Mounted Police, under suspicion that he transported 45.5 grams of methamphetamine in his car across the Lithuanian-Belarusian border. Such a crime is worth from three to seven years in prison, according to Belarusian law. The detained official denied the charges and said a package with narcotics had been planted on him by Belarusian officials at the border checkpoint.

In the evening of Aug. 25, the KGB released Bankauskas from the Belarusian prison, giving no explanation. He spent a night in the Lithuanian general consulate in Grodno and on midday of the next day returned to Lithuania, spending the rest of that day explaining his incident with the Belarusian KGB to the Lithuanian State Security Department. The Bankauskas release came after secret negotiations between state officials of Vilnius and Minsk. Bankauskas returned as a free man, continuing his summer vacation. He was told by the Belarusian KGB that he was released due to an order by Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko.

On Aug. 27, a dozen journalists waited in front of a rather shabby apartment building where the Bankauskas family lives. Bankauskas ran through them to his car, saying “no comment,” but an LNK TV car followed his car and finally he stopped and stepped out to say the following, “I would like to thank the Lithuanian people who trusted me, as well as to thank all of the media.”

“According to the data which we know now, we have no grounds to dismiss him. He made no wrongdoing and we have no information about some wrongdoings from Belarus,” Kestutis Lancinskas, head of the Vilnius County Police, said during a briefing on Aug. 27, adding that an interior investigation into the incident will be launched by the Vilnius police.
“If Belarusian prosecutors would approach us, we would start an investigation according to our laws. At the moment, Lithuanian law and order institutions have no allegations against Bankauskas. It is a possibility that there will be no prosecution,” Vilma Zemaityte, spokeswoman for the Lithuanian Prosecutor General Office, said at a briefing on Aug. 26.

The Belarusian KGB refuses to comment on the miraculous release and, therefore, there are various versions explaining Bankauskas’ 10-day imprisonment in Belarus. According to Bernaras Ivanovas, professor of politics at Kaunas’ Vytautas Magnus University, such detentions and imprisonments are a rather common thing in Belarus and Russia, where local law-and-order institutions are simply racketeering in such a way. Ivanovas thinks that Bankauskas’ Vilnius Mounted Police documents made no impression on Belarusians because fakes of these kind of documents are for sale “in every underpass” in Belarus and Russia. Ivanovas urged the Lithuanian institutions to not look seriously at whatever Minsk will say about it and to take care of all Lithuanian citizens who get into similar trouble in Belarus and Russia, not only high-standing officials.

It is interesting that the Bankauskas scandal came out when Lukashenko and his sons (who are possible successors to the throne of the Belarusian presidency) left for Yerevan, Armenia, a couple of days before the summit of the Collective Security Organization, a kind of ex-Soviet NATO of seven post-Soviet countries, which is more a talking corner than some serious organization. No breakthrough was made during that summit in the recently hostile relations of the Kremlin and Lukashenko.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Lukashenko avoided even eye contact in public there. Before the summit, Medvedev had accused Lukashenko of a failure to deliver on a promise to recognize the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. The summit discussed the situation in the organization’s member state Kyrgyzstan – Russia supports the new government there while Lukashenko supports the ousted Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiyev, who received refuge in Belarus.

On Aug. 15, Russian NTV screened a scandalous series of its documentary Godfather-3, in which Lukashenko was portrayed as the head of a criminal clan. The documentary stated that Belarusian customs and KGB officials got orders to racketeer people crossing the Belarusian border and to send money to the private fund of Lukashenko and his sons, which gets a profit equal to one-third of the entire Belarusian state budget. Godfather-4 is prepared by NTV. Rumors in Minsk state that the Belarusian state TV is preparing a similar documentary about Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

On Aug. 26, Valera Kostka, a former KGB lieutenant-colonel living in Belarus, told the U.S.-sponsored and Prague-based Belarusian-language service Radio Liberty that the Bankauskas story is related to the story of Harry Lahtein, Estonian diplomat in Minsk. Both stories were produced by Moscow’s secret services, according to Kostka. On Aug. 23, the Estonian media got an anonymous letter from “a woman” who accuses Lahtein of raping her. Some photos were added to the letter. On one of them Lahtein, smoking a cigar, touches the breast of a young woman. In another photo, he shows his tongue to another woman. When this information appeared in the Estonian media, Lahtein resigned.

Such discrediting information is the usual job of the Russian secret services. In March, separate videos showing Viktor Shenderovich, the most famous anti-Kremlin satirist, and Mikhail Fishman, editor of the Russian edition of Newsweek, having sex with the same young woman appeared on YouTube, but it caused no public harm to them because Russian society is rather immune to such information and is not obsessed with puritan or feminist views. However, similar tapes on some foreign diplomats have resulted in their immediate recall from Russia. Kostka says that new stories a la Bankauskas or a la Lahtein should be expected in Belarus, while Lukashenko tries to balance his policy between Moscow and the EU and looks for alternative energy supplies outside the Russian market.

“Moscow will try to spoil Belarus’ relations with Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Poland, and Ukraine. Those countries are important as neighboring EU members or as countries via which Venezuelan oil is coming to Belarus,” Kostka said, expressing his sympathy to Lahtein, by adding that “all normal men are meeting with young women and the story appeared only due to its political aspect.”

On Aug. 29, the first tanker with 80,000 tons of Venezuelan oil for Belarus arrived at Lithuania’s state-owned Klaipedos Nafta oil terminal. Klaipedos Nafta hopes that a minimum two million tons of Venezuelan oil per year will be transported to Belarus via Klaipeda if a deal is made with Minsk.