Lithuania: Public News Outlet Threatened After Exposing Minister
The head of Lithuania’s ruling party threatened LRT, a partner organization of OCCRP, on Friday over an investigation he called politically motivated. The outlet published a story the day before alleging that a minister was involved in a kickback scheme.
LRT alleged that the Transportation Minister Jaroslav Narkevič may have profited off of a construction contract that was handed out to a company owned by a family friend.
Narkevič maintained that LRT’s allegations of his corruption were part of an ongoing smear campaign, and described the story as “a fairy tale.”
Lithuania's anti-corruption body, the Special Investigation Service (STT), is currently conducting an investigation into the affair.
MP Ramūnas Karbauskis, chairman of the Farmers and Greens Union, weighed in, saying that if law enforcement does not find evidence of any wrongdoing, the news outlet could be placed under investigation.
“The assessment by LRT, in my view, is very questionable,” said Karbauskis. “I’ve read so many investigations and I was simply wondering, from where the ‘competencies’ of these investigators come from.”
LRT, the largest news outlet in Lithuania, funded entirely by public tax money, has been attacked by the party on several occasions.
"This is not the first time that Karbauskis has expressed his dissatisfaction with work done by LRT journalists, its investigations, or LRT itself,” Indrė Makaraitytė, the head of its investigative team, told OCCRP.
“People and businesses with connections to the ruling party have poured dozens of similar complaints with many of the same arguments that are being used now, but this time, Karbauskis was very direct," she said.
Makaraitytė, who also worked with her team of five journalists on this most recent investigation, maintains that they relied on court documents, public tender registries, archives, and interviews with 30 sources that include public officials, construction workers, company owners, and lawyers, amongst others, to produce the story.
The ruling party had been pushing for two years for an amendment that would have enacted increased political oversight on the news outlet, despite international watchdogs and LRT itself having condemned it as an attack on its ability to produce impartial and independent news coverage.
instead, the parliament adopted an amendment this month that established an independent committee of experts to oversee the work of the LRT.