Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Situation at Snoras worse than suspected, bank to be liquidated

Of course Snoras, a Lithuanian bank taken over by the Lithuanian government on 16 November, has been in the news a lot recently.  I first wrote about this situation here: Fifth largest bank in Lithuania seized by government.  It turns out that the situation at the bank is much worse than the government first suspected.

In this article (in Lithuanian), Vitas Vasiliauskas, the head of the Lithuanian national bank (Lietuvos Bankas), says that it was thought that Snoras had the flu but it turns out that it has cancer.  Fewer assets and more irregularities were found than the government had been expecting.

In this article (in Lithuanian), Vasiliauskas states that the Lithuanian government suspects that the heads of Snoras were trying to increase the authorised capital of Snoras by using customers' deposits.

This article (in Lithuanian) reports that both Vladimir Antonov (who controlled 68.1% of Snoras) and his father were employees of Snoras, as well as both sitting on the Snoras board of supervisors.  Vladimir Antonov was hired as an administrative consultant and was making LTL 58,500 (EUR 16,685 / USD 22,110) a month after taxes for this "work".  Antonov's father was making LTL 14,700 (EUR 4,256 / USD 5,677) a month after taxes.  (This doesn't include the money he was making for being on the board of supervisors.)  I wonder whether he has even stepped foot in Lithuania.  The article also says that the members of the board of supervisors were making an average of LTL 51,500 per month (EUR 14,911 / USD 19,887).  Raimondas Baranauskas, president and owner of 25.31% of Snoras made LTL 58,500 (EUR 16,938 / USD 22,590) per month after taxes.  That doesn't include the amount he got for sitting on the board of directors of the company.  The members of the board of directors were pulling in an average of LTL 40,100 (EUR 11,611 / USD 15,485) a month for sitting on the board.  To put this in perspective, the average Lithuanian makes somewhere around LTL 2,000 a month (EUR 579 / USD 774).

Latvijas Krajbanka, a bank in Latvia controlled by Snoras, has also been seized by the Latvian government because of financial irregularities.  This article (in Lithuanian) states that the bank's current administrator, Janis Brazovskis, discovered what had happened to LAT 100 million (EUR 143 million / USD 190.8 million) that disappeared from the bank.  Brazovskis said that the money had been used for two purposes: to raise the authorized capital of the bank and to finance a personal project of Vladimir Antonov--his plans to purchase the automaker Saab.  Mortgage bonds were used to move the money out of the country.  Brazovskis stated that this was "a crime, indeed several crimes".

In this article (in Lithuanian), Edward Lucas, who is the International Editor of The Economist, says that the activities of Snoras should have been carefully looked into much earlier and that the former Lithuanian government and Lietuvos Bankas share the blame for their lack of action.  According to Lucas, it had been known for many years that the bank was run by suspicious people and was engaging in suspicious activities.  (I wonder how many Lithuanian officials profited from their silence?)  He also states that the Lithuanian authorities acted improperly by not earlier sharing information with the Latvian authorities concerning their suspicions about Snoras.

On a good note, at least Vladimir Antonov and Raimondas Baranauskas have been arrested.  They were seized in the UK and are currently out on bail.

After looking over the situation at Snoras, the Lithuania government has decided to liquidate it.  Earlier there was talk of trying to preserve the bank, but the situation appeared hopeless.  In this article, Andrius Kubilius, the prime minister of Lithuania, stated that the scope of financial crimes at Snoras had never before been encountered by the government.  He added that Snoras could hardly be called a real bank; rather it was a massive financial scheme reminiscent of Bernard Madoff's Ponzi scheme.  Still, few actual details of the fraud that took place at the bank have been released by the government.

In a related (but minor) note, a Mercedes-Benz driven by Sigita Baranauskiene, the wife of Raimondas Baranauskas, was seized by the government as she tried to drive to Riga, Latvia.  As this article reports, her reaction to this was to tell a journalist that she wanted to "like that Norwegian Breivik [who in a murderous bombing and shooting rampage killed almost 80 persons this past summer] pick up a machine gun and kill" the people involved in the downfall of her husband's evil empire.  Nice woman.  I like her humility after it became common knowledge that she and her husband have been living the good life on the deposits of the people putting money in their bank.  Yeah, just gotta love it.

Friday, 18 November 2011

Problems with education reform in Lithuania

An article (in Lithuanian) that recently appeared on the Lithuanian news site Delfi confirms some of the problems I touched on in my 24 October post, "Life in Lithuania II," concerning education reform in Lithuania.  In this recent article, Prof. Rimantas Mikalauskas talks about several of the factors that are preventing true change in the Lithuanian system of higher education and states that the main problem is the low quality of research and education.

His opinion is that some changes, such as making universities autonomous, have failed.  After gaining autonomy from state control, universities made changes to their study programs, administrative methods, and financial systems.  Intense competition for funding even began taking place.  But education and research quality "still remains low."  And serious problems have cropped up.  First, as Mikalauskas puts it, "the administration of every university abuses" this autonomy by adopting decisions that are important only to the administration.  And second, occupying a high-ranking administrative position is being equated to being qualified to hold this post.  Loyalty to the person and the "stupid ideas" that are emanating from that person, even when those ideas are "destroying academic values," is widespread.  This lackeyism is another thing I discuss in my "Life in Lithuania II" post.

The professor also touches on students not being required to study very hard to get a diploma (e.g. some students are able to have a full-time job while at the same time studying "full time") and the "relatively high level of corruption" in Lithuanian higher education. "Giving presents is widely practiced in the study process when taking exams and performing various academic qualification requirements."  (Yet another thing I hinted at in my earlier post.)  "The tolerance that universities have for corruption means that losing [the reputation of the university] has no effect on the financial standing of the university.  And there is one conclusion you can reach from that--that the level of knowledge that university graduates receive is not a priority."

Among other problems, Prof. Mikalauskas of course also mentions the problem of low salaries for professors.  The article is rather long and detailed, and I unfortunately don't have the time to translate everything now.  Besides pointing out the shortcomings of the system, Mikalauskas makes some suggestions about what could be done.  The professor ends the article by saying that solving the many problems in higher education in Lithuania will require the joint effort of the government, the private sector, and society.  I thought the article made some very good points.

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Fifth largest bank in Lithuania seized by government

Snoras, the fifth largest bank in Lithuania, was seized by the government on 16 November.  An article in English covering this event can be found here: Lithuania Seeks Missing Assets in Takeover of Fifth-Biggest Bank.  This nationalization doesn't surprise me.  I had always figured that it was more or less common knowledge that the bank was controlled by the Russian mafia, and, well, would you trust your money to Russian criminals?  I of course can't produce any proof of this assertion concerning the ownership of the bank, which is simply me putting 2 and 2 together.  I remember about six years ago or so reading about Snoras being controlled by a small Russian bank.  Well, that was one piece of evidence.  About three years ago I read about Snoras being investigated for money laundering.  There's another.  And now, according to this article (in Lithuanian), the Office of the Prosecutor General in Lithuania is again investigating the bank in connection with money laundering.

It's quite a coincidence that at this moment all the high ranking executives in the company happen to be out of the country.  I suspect that some will decide that it's safer to stay in Russia or some country that doesn't have any extradition treaty with Lithuania.  The chairman of the board and president of the bank was Raimondas Baranauskas.  (According to this article [in Lithuanian], he owns 25.3% of Snoras.)  I don't really know anything about Baranauskas except that he drives a Bentley with a vanity plate that reads "Snoras I" and owns one of the most expensive apartments in the old town of Vilnius.  When the apartment building was being renovated a few years ago, the architect had to adjust the size of the automobile elevator/lift just to make sure his big ol' Bentley would fit.  In this article (in Lithuanian), Baranauskas, interviewed by a journalist from the newspaper Lietuvos Rytas, calls the government takeover of his bank "theft" and says that if he doesn't put up a fight, other Lithuanian companies will be in danger of being destroyed by the government.  He also claims that the government continually derailed recent plans of Snoras to raise its liquidity.  (I have no idea whether this is true, but I suspect that if it is, then that is the result of the bank being unable to satisfy certain requirements that have to do with the legitimacy of its money, ownership, or operations.)  On 15 November, an anonymous article appeared in Lietuvos Rytas stating that the president of Lithuania was planning to nationalize all Lithuanian banks.  This news has of course been denounced by the government and the prime minister said that the paper may have broken laws by publishing such "lies".  It should be mentioned that through a subsidiary Snoras controls over one-third of Lietuvos Rytas.

It's not yet clear who's being (or going to be) charged with what, but I would like to provide a list of the people involved with this bank.  Time will tell who the bad guys were and who the good guys were (though this being Lithuania, things may never really be cleared up), but too often the criminals remain faceless and nameless, and I want to have this record at least for myself.  Here are the (former) members of the board of directors.

Raimondas Baranauskas
Bank SNORAS, Chairman of the Board, President of the bank, Co-Owner
JSC bank "Finasta", Deputy Chairman of the Supervisory Board
Bank Latvijas Krājbanka, Chairman of the Supervisory Board

Has been working in Bank SNORAS since 1993

Activity in the banking sector
1994 - now:
Bank SNORAS, Chairman of the Board, President
1993 - 1994:
Bank SNORAS, Deputy Chairman of the Board
Naglis Stancikas

Bank SNORAS, Deputy Chairman of the Board, First Vice President
JSC "Finasta Holding", Chairman of the Board
JSC "SNORAS Media", Chairman of the Board
JSC "SNORAS Investment Management", Chairman of the Board
JSC bank "Finasta", Member of the Supervisory Board
Bank "Latvijas Krājbanka", Member of the Supervisory Board

Has been working in Bank SNORAS since 1994

Activity in the banking sector
2006 - now:
Bank SNORAS, First Vice President, Deputy Head of Administration
2008 - 2010:
Bank SNORAS, Director of Investment Business Division
2004 - 2008:
Bank SNORAS, Director of Finance Management Division
2001 - 2004:
Bank SNORAS, Director of Treasury and Investment Division
1999 - 2001:
Bank SNORAS, Director of Planning Department
1994 - 1996:
Bank SNORAS, Head of Crediting Unit
Romasis Vaitekūnas  

Bank SNORAS, Deputy Chairman of the Board, Chief Compliance Officer

Has been working in Bank SNORAS since 1998 

Activity in the banking sector
2008 - now:
Bank SNORAS, Chief Compliance Officer
2006 - 2008:
Bank SNORAS, Director of Security and Prevention Division
1998 - 2006:
Bank SNORAS, Director of Administration Division
1998 - 1999:
Bank SNORAS, Director of Security Department

Modestas Keliauskas  
Bank SNORAS, Deputy Chairman of the Board, Director of Corporate Business Division
JSC "SNORAS Media", Member of the Board
JSC "SNORAS Investment Management", Member of the Board

Has been working in Bank SNORAS since 2004 

Activity in the banking sector
2008 - now:
Bank SNORAS, Director of Corporate Business Division
2004 - 2008:
Bank SNORAS, Director of Crediting Division
2004 - 2004:
Bank SNORAS, adviser to the president
1998 - 2004:
Bank Nord/LB Lietuva, member of the Board, Manager of Retail Banking Division, Director of Crediting Department
1993 - 1998:
Lietuvos taupomasis bankas, Director of Crediting Department
Aušra Ižičkienė  

Bank SNORAS, Member of the Board, Director of Legal Department
JSC "SNORAS Media", Member of the Board

Has been working in Bank SNORAS since 1997 

Activity in the banking sector
2004 - now:
Bank SNORAS, Director of Legal Department
2000 - 2004:
Bank SNORAS, Director of Legal Department
1999 - 2000:
Bank SNORAS, Head of General Unit of Legal Department
1997 - 1999:
Bank SNORAS, lawyer of Legal Unit

Gitanas Kancerevyčius  

Bank SNORAS, Member of the Board, Director of Risk Management Division

Has been working in Bank SNORAS since 2001

Activity in the banking sector
2008 - now:
Bank SNORAS,  Director of Risk Management Division
2004 - 2008:
Bank SNORAS, Director of Risk Management Department
2003 - 2004:
Bank SNORAS, Director of Financial Risk Department
2002 - 2003:
Bank SNORAS, Head of Risk Management Unit of Treasury and Investment Division
2001 - 2002:
Bank SNORAS, analyst of Treasury and Investment Division
Jurgita Bliumin
Bank SNORAS, Member of the Board, Chief Financial Officer

Has been working in Bank SNORAS since 2006

Activity in the banking sector
2010 - now:
Bank SNORAS, Chief Financial Officer
2008 - 2010:
Bank SNORAS, Director of Finance Division, Chief Accountant
2006 - 2008:
Bank SNORAS, Deputy Director of Accounting Division
I suppose that if you're making enough money, you don't really worry about working with criminals.

And here are the (former, I assume) members of the board of supervisors.

Vladimir Antonov 

Chairman of AB Bank SNORAS Supervisory Board, main shareholder of the bank

Chairman of the Supervisory Board of the International Financial Group "Konvers Group"
Chairman of the Supervisory Board of JSC "Finasta Holding"
Member of the Supervisory Board of JSC bank "Finasta"
Member of the Supervisory Board of the bank "Latvijas Krājbanka"
Member of the Board of Directors of the bank "Banco Trasatlantico S.A."

Chairman of the Supervisory Board since 30.03.2004

Activity in the banking sector:
Work experience in the banking sphere is over 13 years. During this period, V. Antonov worked in the largest bank of Russia "Sberbank", he held responsible managing positions in the banks "Konversbank", "Akademhimbank".

Alexander Antonov 

Member of AB Bank SNORAS Supervisory Board

President of the International Financial Group "Konvers Group", member of the Supervisory Board
Member of the Supervisory Board of JSC bank "Finasta"
Member of the Supervisory Board of the bank "Latvijas Krājbanka" 

Member of the Supervisory Board since 15.03.2006

Activity in the banking sector:
Started activity in the banking sector in 2002: managed the bank "Konversbank Moskva", worked in the Supervisory Board of the bank "Konversbank" and in the Board of Directors of the International Financial Group "Konvers Group" where he later held the managing positions and works until now.

Oleg Sukhorukov 

Member of AB Bank SNORAS Supervisory Board

Vice President of  the International Financial Group "Konvers Group"
Member of the Supervisory Board of the bank "Latvijas Krājbanka" 

Member of the Supervisory Board since 15.03.2006

Activity in the banking sector:
The total work experience in the banking sector - over 10 years. Worked in the banks "Eksportno-Importnyj bank", "Rosbank", "Moskovskij delovoj bank" where he held responsible positions in the structural subdivisions of finance management and analysis.

 Maxim Anchipolovsky

Member of AB Bank SNORAS Supervisory Board

Director of Volter Vols International

Member of the Supervisory Board since 01.09.2008

Activity in the financial sector:
In 2002 he began a professional career in the bank "Nationalnyi kosmicheskiy bank", later he performed legal work in the company "Kredit Moskva" and in the bank "Konversbank"; he also was the head of International Legal Division of Legal Department in the international finacial group "Konvers Group". 

 Adam Habib

Member of AB Bank SNORAS Supervisory Board

The senior partner and the CEO of the company "Jubilee Financial Products" which manages the alternative investment fund "JFP Emerging Europe Momentum Fund"

Member of the Supervisory Board since 05.05.2011

Activity in the financial sector:
Has experience in the financial industry since 1993. Over 10 worked  in international bank Credit Suisse. In 2008 together with partners set the company „Jubilee Financial Products".

Well, well.  The board of supervisors certainly includes a lot of Russian names.  I wonder what that means.  Make your own conclusions.  If you will, place bets on who will end up in prison or never return to Lithuania.  If I were a betting man, I'd bet that not one of the last five people will ever step foot in Lithuania again and by doing that will escape all legal consequences.  

Vladimir Antonov, who according to this article (in Lithuanian) owns 68.1% of Snoras, even has his own page on Wikipedia.  You know, I don't care what your situation is, but if you have amassed 300 million dollars just 10 years after graduation from university, you didn't make your money legally.  Read through the article and it should be clear what kind of person he is.  On his record of withholding information from supervisory bodies:  “These failures are not an isolated instance but are examples of an ongoing pattern of behaviour by institutions controlled by Mr Antonov" (the UK Financial Services Authority).

Monday, 24 October 2011

Life in Lithuania II

There's a lot of talk about education reform in Lithuania now.  Various ideas have been put forward.   The current Minister of Education and Science says that a lot has been accomplished.  Others say that very little of substance has been accomplished.  One idea that is often mentioned is reducing the number of post-secondary institutions.

I have to say that I can't get very interested in the discussion.  Perhaps something such as what is mentioned in the preceding paragraph needs to be done.  I'm more interested in the view that I receive of post-secondary education however.

Did you know that if you are a university student and your mother is a member of the Lithuanian parliament, you will be able to regularly drink coffee with the dean of the Faculty of Medicine and get passing grades no matter how little you do or how poor the quality of your work is?  Did you know that if your father is a professor in the Faculty of Medicine and you are not passing an introductory class in that faculty, you can transfer to another introductory class where the teacher is more easily persuaded to give a passing grade?  Did you know that the Lithuanian doctor who could now be treating you or a loved one (or making medical policy as a member of the government) may not have passed one class without cheating?

That's just a glimpse of the view I have of Lithuanian post-secondary education.  It's the same problem that can be found in much of Lithuanian society: lack of moral/ethical standards by a large percentage of people and plenty who feel that such a situation is none of their business or don't care to get involved.  Oh, there are a few, a very small minority (by my calculations), who would like to do something, but they are so afraid that they rarely raise their voices.  Those who do make waves often have their careers derailed by both the guilty parties and the many who hold the idea that conformity is sacred and the whistle-blowers are the real criminals.  As in many other parts of the world, these same people hide behind patriotism and church/family/loyalty to superiors/etc.

So, yeah, education reform in Lithuania:  I just don't think that anything meaningful is really going to happen.  Those rotten parts of the system are encouraging more rot by helping put their children and other family members into positions of authority.  And that problem is one that I haven't seen anyone in Lithuania address seriously in the 16 years I've been here.

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Life in Lithuania I

I read an article yesterday on, a Lithuanian news portal, that pretty much perfectly sums up what is wrong with Lithuania.  I've just got to pass it on.  The original story appears here.

Actor Juozas Bindokas, who works at the Siauliai Drama Theatre, had a very curious experience.  A police officer responding to the actor's call for help advised him to compensate the "damages suffered" by the drunken youths who were hassling him.

Saturday (2 October) evening, around 9 p.m., 60-year-old Juozas Bindokas, who had appeared in two plays that day, was driving home.  On the way home, he decided to stop by a shop.  Bindokas pulled off the main road onto a drive leading to the parking lot of the store.   There he was forced to stop by three young men who were drinking alcohol and blocking the road. They moved out of the way reluctantly after being asked by the actor.  Very shortly after Bindokas began driving again he heard his left rear wheel run over something.

"As soon as I heard the noise, I stopped the car and turned on my hazard lights.  The young men who were drinking pointed out that I'd run over a can of beer and immediately demanded that I buy them another one.  I refused to do that and then one of them began yelling and saying that I'd run over his foot. I understood that nothing good could come from this situation, so I called the police", Bindokas reported.

The actor said that the young men were quite happy to hear that the police were coming.  "They continued to berate me for not buying them some beer.  While we were waiting for the police to come, they threw the other cans that were lying around into a nearby trash bin.  A policeman arrived shortly thereafter and tested the drunkeness of the young men", Bindokas said.

The young men told the police that the actor "hadn't signaled or flashed his lights".  Otherwise they would have had time to get out of the way.  "They said that they had put their money together and only had enough to buy that one can of beer.  They then said that they had set it on the road because they wanted to smoke a cigarette.  And I, jerk that I am, went and ran over it", Bindokas said, not hiding his irony.

The policeman then advised Bindokas to buy some beer for the young men who had "suffered a loss", because that would solve everything.  "I was shocked by his suggestion.  But he told me that I was better off to give them several litas now than to have to go through a court hearing later.  I had to give in, but I really didn't expect such a reaction from the policeman," Bindokas said with disappointment in his voice.

According to the actor, it was interesting that the policeman completely ignored the story about one of the young men getting his foot run over.  "The young man whose foot I supposedly ran over left the scene after a while.  The others then said that he had a very good lawyer.  And the officer didn't even question the person who was working in the shop and who saw the entire situation", Bindokas reported.

Gailute Smagriuniene, a spokesperson for the police in Siauliai, told Lietuvos Zinios [a Lithuanian newspaper] that a police officer reponded to a call at approximately 9 p.m. yesterday.  "A young man stated that his foot had been run over.  The officer determined that hadn't happened and that the driver of the car had only run over a can of beer," she said.  When asked whether it would be possible to talk to the police officer who had responded to the incident, she stated that he was sleeping after working the night shift.

A little slice of life from Lithuania.  I admit that the actor shouldn't have given those punks any money (or bought them beer--whatever he eventually did) and he shouldn't have been scared to pursue the matter (even though it might have meant going to court), but really what can a person do in such a situation?  It's clear that calling the police doesn't do any good.

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

New African Link

I've added a new link to my collection of African links at the side of this page: StewDiaw African Apparel.  They're offering African clothing, jewelry, accessories, soap, drums, and other items.  Check it out!

Thursday, 30 June 2011

Insult to injury -- a recommendation about a law firm to avoid

In my 1 June 2011 post, I talked about a traffic accident I had and my negative experiences with the police and justice system of Lithuania.  I didn't mention the law firm that represented me because I had nothing positive to say about the firm except that the people I dealt with seemed relatively nice.  I'm compelled to write about that firm now because of a recent incident.

I was represented by the lawyer Darius Gumbrevicius, who does business as Advokato Dariaus Gumbreviciaus kontora.  The law firm he works for is called Advokates Dianos Gumbreviciutes kontora.

Just a couple of days ago I got the final bill for my legal services.  That came as quite a shock since I was sure that I had paid my final bill some time ago.  Not long after I decided to go to court about my traffic accident, I got a bill for LTL 756.25 (USD 317/EUR 220) and promptly paid it.  After the case went to court, I got another bill, this one for LTL 907.50 (USD 379/EUR 264).  I assumed that this was some sort of total bill for services, and I therefore paid the difference between the two bills.  That sum was more or less what Darius Gumbrevicius told me when I asked how much it would cost to take the matter to court: "about LTL 700". As it turns out, however, the two bills were separate, meaning that my total costs to take this matter to court were LTL 1663.75 (USD 696/EUR 484).  Holy moolah, Batman!  That seems like an awful lot of money to charge someone to take a traffic offence to court, especially one for which the potential fine was LTL 100 (USD 42/EUR 29).

The law firm and I exchanged several e-mails as I tried to wrap my head around this new sum.  Now, I have to admit that the law firm explained the fees in detail (that 1 hour of services is LTL 250 + 21% VAT, that 2.5 hours was spend doing this, that 3 hours was spent doing that, etc.).  I was even told that I had received a discount (some services were supposedly provided free of charge) since "only the preparation of the complaint [for court] took about 3 hours".  (It was two pages long.)

I suppose that it could be said that on the surface of this situation everything looks more or less kosher, except for the fact that I understood that my total bill would be less than half of what it actually was, and maybe that could be considered simply a misunderstanding, not misrepresentation or fraud.  Right?  Well, my opinion is slightly different.  I feel that I was deceived about the total fees and about my chances of winning the case, and I was decidedly not satisfied with the strategy or performance of my lawyer.

Concerning the fees, let's give the law firm the benefit of the doubt and say that there was a misunderstanding (which, again, I don't believe was the case).  But I would say that a professional law firm should be open and up-front about the the expected fee to represent a person, especially if that person is a foreigner and language or cultural differences might cause misunderstandings.  I would never have taken the matter to court had I known how much it was going to cost.  I think that was the point in keeping me ignorant of the total costs.

Concerning my chances of winning the case, the law firm said, "you were informed about the fact that the probability to win the case is small and you knew that from the very beginning".  I do not remember hearing anything such as that said.  I remember being told that I "had a chance".  I assumed that meant a 50% chance.  Perhaps that's a cultural or language difference and another misunderstanding, but again I feel as if I was misled.

Concerning the quality of the services provided, well, it's only my opinion, but I felt that there was a lack of quality.  Perhaps this lawyer wasn't used to dealing with traffic offences.  Maybe there was another problem.  I don't know.  But I can say that he himself admitted to me that his delay in pursuing the matter was the reason we had to appeal the decision of the traffic police rather than file suit against the actual culprit (the person who caused the accident).  I can also say that one point used in the appeal was completely meaningless--that the police had not provided a translator during an interview.  As it turns out, since one was provided in court, that is enough to make up for the earlier "oversight" according to Lithuanian law.  Apparently my lawyer wasn't aware of that.  I can add that I also wasn't happy that my lawyer didn't focus on the discrepancies in the written and oral testimony of the person that caused the accident.  That seemed to me to be one of the most important aspects of the case.  That's my opinion.  Perhaps Lithuanian law doesn't worry about such things as giving false testimony or lying to collect an insurance claim.

Because of all this, I've decided to report this matter here and state that I cannot recommend using the services of this law firm.  My decision to report this matter was reinforced by something that the law firm wrote me: "it is your decision whether or not to report this matter on your blog and 'warn people to avoid using the services' of our law firm (for the latter mentioned, we explain, that in a such case, we will be forced to take legal remedies against you for the ungrounded information made public - defamation".  Wow.  That's not very good PR.  Anyway, I have tried to not include any ungrounded information.

Monday, 27 June 2011

Lithuanians spend more on food than most

According to "Lietuviai pagal islaidas maistui - antri ES" (Lithuanians in second place in EU according to spending on food), an article I found on, the price of food products in Lithuania has increased 11 per cent over the past year, and Lithuania is in second place behind Romania according to amount of money spent on food.

It's written that the average Lithuanian spends about one-fourth of all expenses on food products, not including drinks.  The European average is 12-14 per cent.

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

The emigration problems of Lithuania

Emigration is a problem that has plagued Lithuania at various times in its history, and it's become a particularly vexing problem since the country regained independence about 20 years ago.  Here are some articles from the past several months talking about that situation.

In "Lietuvos gyventoju skaicius pernai mazejo sparciausiai ES" (Population of Lithuania decreasing most rapidly in EU), Lina Laurinaityte writes that the benefit of the money emigrants send to Lithuania is overvalued and that the decreasing birthrate and increasing mortality threaten to cause new social and economic problems.

"Those who leave are active in business and brave.  That is needed by the country, for the political sphere and for non-governmental organisations", Buguslavas Gruzevskis, a director at the Social Research Centre, said.

"The number of children is decreasing and many children who remain are like orphans with living parents. [...]  What that means is that a significant amount of new social problems will arise in the next 10-15 years", Rasa Alisauskiene, director-general of Baltic Research, said.

In "Emigracijos prognoze siu metu pabaigai - 90 tukst. isvykusiuju" (Emigration forecast for end of year - 90,000 emigrants), which was written in September 2010, the scale of emigration is looked into.  According to data from the government, 58,328 people declared their emigration between 1 January 2010 and 31 August 2010.  The article goes on to say, however, that the data concerning the amount of people leaving is being warped by a new law requiring inhabitants to pay monthly premiums into the government-run health system.  Because of that law, many more people were registering the fact that they had left the country, and many of those had been abroad for a significant amount of time.

Dainius Paukste, vice director at the Department of Migration, stated that the image of Lithuania was being formed by emigrants.  "The people leaving our country, whether we like it or not, help to form an image for the world that Lithuania is a country of unhappy people.  This advertisement seems free now (though everyone knows that the only free cheese is moldy cheese), but in the future we may get a horrible bill for it", he said.

"Demografine katastrofa: Lietuvoje jau nera ne 3 mln zmoniu" (Demographic catastrophe: no longer 3 million people in Lithuania), was written on 9 May 2011, right after the recent census was completed.  Preliminary data suggested that there were no longer 3 million people in Lithuania, but additional data has led the Department of Statistics to report that there are just over 3 million.  There's actually little information in the article but there is a video accompanying the article that contains several interesting facts.  It is stated that when Lithuania regained independence about 20 years ago there were 3.7 million inhabitants.  According to the most optimistic forecasts now, by 2050 there will be only 2.5 million people.  Prof Stankuniene, a demographer, states that the problem is threefold, with the increasing mortality rate and decreasing birth rate adding to the problems caused by runaway emigration.  In the past, I've heard her say that the biggest problems were actually the mortality and birth rate.

Over the past several months, I've also read several other articles talking about this problem.  Besides facts and figures, the authors usually discuss why so many people are leaving, what can be done about the problem, and why the government is doing so little (or nothing) to combat the problem.  After all, population has decreased about 19 per cent (the same as if 62.3 million US citizens left the U.S.A.).  And best case scenario, another 16.7 per cent of the population will disappear.  You would think that supporting families, creating jobs, and improving healthcare would be priorities for the government.  They aren't, though.

If things go on as they are, Lithuania will certainly disappear as a political entity in the future.  Possible ways to fix things would be a balanced policy of immigration, liberalising labour laws to attract blue-collar workers, and providing more support for education and research and development to attract the brains to help move the country forward in those spheres.  I've read that Lithuania has the strictest immigration laws in the EU.  From my personal experience with the government/Department of Migration here, I've never felt welcome.  I've heard the same story from friends from other countries.  Now that Lithuania is a member of the EU, things have changed for citizens of other EU countries.  If you're not from the EU, however, things have actually got worse.  And to all that can be added the propensity that many Lithuanians have for being racist/xenophobic.  In my experience, the foreigners who live here, especially those with families, tend to be better "citizens" than the majority of Lithuanians.  Unless the government begins to make us feel welcome and safe and protected by the law, many of us will eventually leave the country and take our children.  I know that I consider it my duty to make sure that my children will be able to leave Lithuania when they are old enough.

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

My accident or how I lost the last shreds of faith I had in the Lithuanian police and judicial system

I was hoping that I would be able to entitle this "My accident or the cost of justice in Lithuania", but that hope was crushed by the verdict issued by the judge some time ago. But let me start at the beginning. On 19 February, I was involved in a traffic accident. As I was making a left turn at an intersection, the driver behind me (also making a left turn) accelerated and began passing me (as we were turning). I honked to warn him to watch out and then after he cut in front of me I honked again and flashed my high beams as a warning to drive more carefully. He was apparently angered by my actions because he braked suddenly and came to a stop right in front of me. I saw his brake lights but assumed he was preparing to turn into a nearby filling station. When I understood he had come to a complete stop, I slammed on my brakes, but the road was covered with snow and I could not stop in time.

When the police arrived on the scene, they questioned me and then talked to the other driver. Before even looking at the accident, they said that everything was clear--that I was following to closely. That the other driver was driving recklessly (passing as he did and then slamming on his brakes in the middle of the road for no reason) did not seem important. The patrolmen pushed me very hard to fill out paperwork stating that the accident was solely my fault, but despite their threats (big fines or confiscation of my driving licence) (and even though they said several times that I was wasting their time--their shift had ended and they said they should have been home already), I refused to take full blame for the accident, which meant that we had to go to the police station to fill out paperwork (and where I was admonished by a senior officer for "mocking" the patrolmen--after all their shift had already ended and they should be at home).

Refusing to take full blame for the accident also meant that I had to go to the police station on 22 Feb. to attend a hearing, which was ostensibly to determine whether I was actually at fault. The officer I met at that hearing was Sigitas Kūjalis. I explained how the accident happened, and I told him that I had found a video recording of the accident (made by a security camera on the Polish Cultural Center) but had not had time to get a copy. We scheduled a meeting for another day. At that time, I showed him the video and explained to him that there was a discrepancy between the written evidence that the other driver had given (that he hadn't stopped) and what was on the recording. He nonchalantly flipped through the pages of the accident file and said, "I don't see that he was lying". He then told me that I would have to pay a fine of about US$40.

I decided to take the matter to court. Surely everything could be cleared up there. It was not the fine that bothered me (I knew that hiring a lawyer would cost at least $300); it was mostly the principle of the matter. Of course, that I would be paying higher insurance rates (and would most likely be paying thousands more for this accident because of the higher rates) was also a consideration. My wife was 100 per cent against the move. But then again she had earlier said that I should take the easy way out and take full responsibility for the accident, so I decided to ignore her advice. The judge was Algimantas Valantinas, a former prosecutor general who had lost his post because of some malfeasance. According to my lawyer, the hearing was conducted in a reasonably and seemingly fair manner. I explained my side of the story, putting particular emphasis on the fact that the written testimony of the other driver obviously differed from the filmed evidence. The other driver lied once again, though he changed his story slightly for the judge. Instead of saying that he hadn't slowed down at all (much less stopped), he stated that he'd slowed down because he thought that I was signaling that something was wrong. Nevertheless, the difference between the other driver's original written testimony and his oral testimony in court remained. And I pointed that out.

The decision of the judge was therefore shocking. The basic decision, that the fine was assessed fairly, was made because the judge decided to take the word of the other driver and disregard the filmed record. I have no doubt that this decision was made on the basis of the identity of the other driver, Filionis August. His identity is connected with the licence plate of his vehicle, DOU 222 (Toyota Land Cruiser), another one for the bad drivers' hall of shame. My lawyer found out before our hearing that licence plates having three numbers that are the same were in the past given to anyone who was formerly in the police force or to people with ties to the police force. So, it can't be proven, but it seems that I hit a former police officer, and in Lithuania that means that I'll always be at fault. I'm sure that the thought of "what can he do for me in the future?" was also not in my favour.

What does that say about the Lithuanian police? Justice system? Filionis August? Well, as for this Filionis August fellow, who I found to be a particularly slimy 'person', I can say this: Fil, you taught me a lesson. Justice in Lithuania doesn't come from the systems the government has set up to "serve" the people. It comes from oneself. If you're lucky, we won't cross paths again. And you can better believe that I'll boycott your company, August & Ko, and encourage others to do the same.

Now, this incident itself is nasty business: being blamed for an accident that at least wasn't entirely my fault and having to pay dearly for this in the form of increased auto insurance premiums. But this incident was actually the straw that broke the camel's back. We've had problems with the police before, the most prominent incident being when our car was hit while parked on the street. (The culprit was caught but then "lost". Some very angry calls from me to succeedingly higher layers of police administration finally solved everything.) There have been other minor incidents as well. And our experiences with the justice system here have been rather ugly as well. The most prominent of those experiences was about a year ago when my wife made a mistake on some pro-forma document that needed a judge's approval and the judge, Petras Kazys Smaliukas, asked for a bribe to help straighten things out. Nevertheless, I--being the naive, trusting fellow I am--preserved some modicum of respect for those two arms of the Lithuanian government. Past tense.

So, I'd like to say something to the people involved in this situation: patrolman Jurij Pliargo, senior specialist Sigitas Kūjalis, and Judge Algimantas Valantinas. You shame yourselves and your country, and you are part of the reason why living in this country, to put it bluntly, sucks. And you know that's not just my opinion.