Lithuanian Defence Minister Juozas Olekas must step down because of the scandal over the army's overpriced purchases that discredits not only the national defence system, but also the state and the Social Democratic Party, President Dalia Grybauskaitė said on Tuesday.
Juozas Olekas
© DELFI / Šarūnas Mažeika

"This situation undermines our efforts to protect the state, to increase (defence) spending and discredits our decisions in the eyes of our people. Therefore, the minister must assume political responsibility so as not to discredit not only the national defence system, but also the state and the Social Democratic party," the president told reporters.

"I am appealing both to the minister and the Social Democratic leadership: to assume political responsibility means to stop bringing disgrace to the state and the national defence system," she said.

Grybauskaitė said that Olekas lied when he said that the Ministry of National Defence itself had asked prosecutors to investigate the army's overpriced purchases. In her words, what the ministry complained about was the labelling of goods, not prices.

"It would be an overstatement to say that the national defence system did something back in 2014, because nobody turned to the prosecutors over inflated prices. This went on for another two years. We are now speaking about purchases from Nota Bene that are close to €2 million," the president said.

"The national defence (system) turned to the prosecutors in 2014 not because the price was eight times too high, but because of the marking and names on the labels," she added.

The Lithuanian Public Procurement Office disclosed last Tuesday that the Armed Forces had purchased kitchen utensils at prices that were eight times higher than the market price.

Olekas said that the ministry had asked the Prosecutor General's Office to launch a pre-trial investigation over suspected fraud in the public procurement contract. In his words, the prosecutors started the probe, but later dropped it.

PM trusts defence minister

Lithuanian Prime Minister Algirdas Butkevičius on Tuesday restated his confidence in Defence Minister Olekas and called on President Grybauskaitė not to engage in politicking.

"The prime minister is not changing his position regarding Defence Minister Olekas. The prime minister is calling on the president not to politick in the pre-election period," Mindaugas Janulionis, the prime minister's spokesman, told BNS.

Minister 'insulted'

Lithuania's Defence Minister Juozas Olekas has rejected criticism from President Dalia Grybauskaitė, saying that he was insulted by the president's reproaches.

"I disagree with the criticism, which insults me as a person who has been serving the state for so long," Olekas told journalists at the Defence Ministry on Tuesday.

Meanwhile his party, the Social Democrats, said they had doubts whether President Grybauskaitė was capable of performing her direct duties.

"The Social Democrats are raising the issue of the president's responsibility, her ability to perform her direct duties and the consequences of her policies on the life of the country and all people," reads a press release circulated by the party's Information Centre.

"Speaking about manifestation of corruption and faulty scheme of public procurement, the president does not require responsibility or performance results from the institutions she is responsible for. The prosecution system is for some reason immune and covered up," said the Social Democratic Party's Information Centre.

The Social Democrats said that by demanding responsibility of the defence minister "over the overpriced public procurement deal that he himself controlled and handed over to the law-enforcement, the president does not see her own responsibility for the fully irresponsible work of prosecutors".

"After two years of procrastination and termination of the investigation, the prosecutor's office satisfied the president by allowing to publish the materials as a public accusation. Why weren't the suspicions submitted in a legal way?" reads the press release.

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