"I understand the charges and plead not guilty," all of the three defendants told a Vilnius court on Wednesday after hearing the indictment.
The court opened the criminal case against the three defendants on Wednesday, and Paksas, Vainauskas and Zabulis all said they would give testimony after hearing witnesses.
Vainauskas told journalists he had been doing investigative journalism and does not agree with the charges, adding he wanted to know Paksas' response about the situation. In his words, an article would have appeared, had the law-enforcement not interfered.
Prosecutors suspect that Paksas, as then leader of the Order and Justice party, agreed to accept a 15,000-euro bribe from Vainauskas in late August of 2015 and pledged to use his public status, circle of acquaintances and other supposed influence upon state institutions and officials to influence them.
According to information from the Special Investigation Service (STT), there has been no evidence of the money reaching Paksas. However, a deal and a pledge are enough to qualify the criminal deed under the Penal Code, STT said.
The law-enforcement suspect that Paksas was bribed to press construction inspectors to authorize the opening of a new Norfa retail store in Prienai, a town in southern Lithuania. According to the investigation materials, violations established during the construction were later eliminated.
Launched in February of 2016, the investigation took a long time, as Lithuanian authorities had to turn to the European Parliament with a request to lift Paksas' immunity. With the immunity revoked by the EP this past summer, the criminal case reached court this fall.
Businessman Zabulis is part of another episode of the investigation. Prosecutors suspect Vainauskas could have exercised his influence to force the Financial Crime Investigation Service (FNTT) to close a probe into large-scale fraud in use of European Union (EU) money by BOD Group, a Lithuanian renewable energy and high-tech company. The allegations were later dropped.
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