Bronius Markauskas is stepping down as Lithuania's agriculture minister amid criticism over his family's farming practices, Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis said on Wednesday.
Bronius Markauskas
© DELFI / Kiril Čachovskij

"The minister today informed me about his decision to leave his post in light of all the circumstances. I respect the minister's decision," he told reporters after the Cabinet's meeting.

The prime minister underlined that Markauskas is not facing any charges from law-enforcement bodies, but the requirements for an agriculture minister are higher than those for an ordinary farmer.

He added that he will next week formally inform President Dalia Grybauskaitė about his decision to dismiss Markauskas from his post, indicating the date when the decision takes effect.

Markauskas is one of the two members of the ruling Lithuanian Farmers and Greens Union (LVŽS) in Skvernelis' Cabinet. The other member is Economy Minister Virginijus Sinkevičius. All other ministers, including the prime minister, are not members of any political party.

Skvernelis said on Tuesday that he would make his decision regarding the agriculture minister on Wednesday. Markauskas himself on Tuesday admitted having committed an infringement, but said it was too negligent for him to resign.

In its response to an inquiry from the opposition Homeland Union–Lithuanian Christian Democrats, the Lithuanian Financial Crime Investigation Service (FNTT) said on Tuesday that it had found no signs of criminal activity in the farming practices of Markauskas or his mother, Sofija Markauskienė.

However, the minister's family could have violated crop declaration rules for obtaining EU payments, FNNT said.

The National Paying Agency (NPA) is still looking into the circumstances surrounding crop declaration by the minister's family.

Markauskas came under fire after the news website reported that his family had used several plots of land without the landowners' permission and had received EU payments for that land.

The minister says that his family farmed the land under oral arrangements with the landowners.

President Dalia Grybauskaitė earlier this month called on Markauskas to step down.

The parliament's opposition parties on Tuesday collected the necessary 29 signatures to initiate an interpellation procedure against the agriculture minister.

Markauskas is the third minister in Skvernelis' Cabinet to resign since the government took office a year and a half ago. Mindaugas Sinkevičius stepped down last September after his Social Democratic Party withdrew from the government coalition with the LVŽS. Milda Vainiutė last March quit as justice minister following criticism from Grybauskaitė and the prime minister has so far failed to find a replacement.

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