Lithuanian Presidential Candidate Blames Journalists for His Election Failure

Published: 13 May 2024

Ignas Vegele Ignas Vėgėlė speaking at a pre-elections event. (Photo: Andrius Švitra/Siena)

By Šarūnas Černiauskas

Last month, he was still seen as a serious challenger to the incumbent president. However, when Lithuanians voted on Sunday, Ignas Vėgėlė failed to qualify for the second round, blamed journalists for it, and announced he might sue.

In April, an international team of reporters revealed that UAB Vilpra, a Lithuanian company owned by Vėgėlė's family, may have been indirectly violating sanctions on Belarus.

OCCRP member centers Siena and Buro Media, along with Lithuania’s independent media outlet Laisvės TV, found that right after the sanctions were imposed, Vilpra started selling air conditioning units to two Kyrgyz companies based at non-existent addresses in Bishkek.

The investigation showed that Kyrgyzstan never imported the volumes of ACs declared by Vilpra and that the two companies Vilpra sold the units to turned out to be major suppliers of a Belarusian firm that was previously exposed for violating sanctions.

Experts, including customs officials, interviewed by the Lithuanian reporters claimed these operations had multiple telltale signs of sanction evasion, with Belarus being the most likely true destination of the cargo.

As the story broke, Lithuanian customs started looking into Vilpra’s activities. The company denies any involvement in sanction evasion.

In Lithuania, businesses are banned from funding political campaigns. However, Vėgėlė's family – his father, mother, and brother – donated almost 54,000 euros (US$58,338) to his campaign. All three are linked to Vilpra either through ownership or management.

Vėgėlė seems to believe that the media investigation may have cost him votes and said he will “consider” litigation.

“People invested 200,000 euros ($216,064) into my election campaign. (...) It’s a lot of money donated by people, and this is the damage,” he said.