Lithuanian Politician gets Expelled from the Party after OCCRP Investigation
The Lithuanian Social Democratic Party expelled one of its prominent members on Wednesday after OCCRP and its partners exposed his role in a sanction evasion scheme that saw Russian and Belarussian wood being smuggled into the EU with suspect paperwork from Kazakhstan or Kyrgyzstan.
investigation described a scene involving a member of the local governing board for Lithuania’s Social Democratic party Saulius Girčys who co-owns a company called Vivalsa which sells pellets.Tuesday’s
When Lithuanian journalists visited his warehouse in Vievis, a Lithuanian city close to the capital of Vilnius posing to be potential buyers, he openly stated that his pellets don’t actually come from Kyrgyzstan.
“They bring it from Belarus, but because it’s forbidden they make Kyrgyz documents,” he said.
He also proposed to remove any risk for potential clients and further obscure the origin of the pellets.
“You’re buying it from me, a Lithuanian seller. If you want me to, I can write ‘wood pellets LT,’” he said. “It’s not a problem.”
When contacted later by reporters for comment, Girčys said he only suspects the pellets to be Belarusian and if they were, he sees no problem in selling them.
“Belarus basically does not participate in the war,” he said. “I don’t think my hands are stained with blood.”
The revelation prompted an immediate reaction from his party, which canceled his membership and took him off the list of candidates in the upcoming municipal elections.
“With his actions and comments, Girčys is undermining the reputation of the Social Democratic Party to which he belongs. According to the party’s regulations, such behavior demands the strictest punishment - expulsion. In the nearest future, the Elektrėnai division where Girčys is a member, shall gather and decide on the expulsion”, Justinas Argustas, the press officer for LSDP, told OCCRP’s Lithuanian partner Siena.
The party also demands that Lithuanian authorities launch an official investigation into Girčys’ business.
“We perceive Girčys’ comments and actions as inexcusable and intolerable. Belarus is an active participant in the Russian invasion of Ukraine. (...) In our opinion, the actions of the company’s director should be evaluated by law enforcement,” Argustas said.
The timber story also sparked a reaction from the Belarusian opposition which has been operating in exile after the 2020 presidential election that is widely considered to have been manipulated in favor of Alexander Lukashenko.
“I hope this publication will help shut down the corruption schemes and loopholes used by the regime and its henchmen”, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, Lukashenko’s top contender in the election, told Belarusian Investigative Center, OCCRP’s Belarusian partner.
Tsikhanouskaya’s office intends to seek international reaction to OCCRP’s findings in an attempt to tighten the grip on efforts to bypass sanctions imposed on Lukashenko’s regime.
“Now, thanks to the investigation, we can prove it in numbers and precise documents, we will hand all that over to the EU’s special envoy on sanctions. We will raise the question both in Brussels and in Washington,” Tsikhanouskaya’s advisor Franak Viačorka told BIC.
Some 30 million euros worth of Kyrgyz and Kazakh wood entered the EU after sanctions took effect. Lithuanian authorities confirmed to reporters that the Central Asian countries are being used to dodge sanctions on Russian and Belarusian timber.
The day after OCCRP published the investigation, Kyrgyz authorities issued an official statement that confirms the European wood imports from Kyrgyzstan are mostly or entirely fake as the country has banned wood export beyond the territory of the Eurasian Economic Union in August.
Belarusian authorities, on the other hand, flatly denied the facts laid out in the investigation.
“That’s absurd,” Vladimir Krech, the Deputy Minister of Forestry, told BIC in a phone interview when asked about the facts presented in the investigation. “What they are writing, those are fantasies of people who want to appear important.”
Deputy Vice Prime Minister Piotr Parkhomchik told reporters that he was not informed about Lithuanian customs officials seizing Belarusian wood products with Kyrgyz and Kazakh documents and will therefore not comment on the issue.