Vitas Matuzas, Lithuanian Member of Parliament for the Conservative Party, is allegedly suspected of accepting bribes in exchange for drafting three bills. Lithuania’s Special Investigation Service thinks Matuzas was paid to draft the Excise Law, the Money Laundering and Terrorism Financing Prevention Act as well as the Alcohol Control Law. This last law blocked a comprehensive ban on alcohol advertising that was due to come in to effect last January.
News portal Delfi.lt writes that the three bills were bought for a mere 55 thousand litas (16 thousand Euros). The money allegedly comes from a lobbyist representing Lithuania’s Radio and Television Association who is currently charged with allegations of fraud, abuse of office and forgery of documents, for which he has recently spent 25 days in jail.
According Delfi.lt, the bribe to Matuzas was not paid directly, but given in instalments to the Charity and Relief Fund run by the conservative MP. The Special Investigation Service (SST) suspects that part of the money – about 33 thousand litas handed over to Matuzas in cash. Curiously, Matuzas has never disclosed that he owns a charity and relief fund anywhere and there is no public information available about it.
Matuzas registered a bill to revoke the complete ban on advertising alcohol in May last year. Following a previous law, the ban should have come into effect on 1 January 2012. Thirteen other MPs supported and co-signed his bill. Matuzas argued for his bill saying that a complete ban would give competitive advantage to Russian broadcasters in Lithuania, since the ban on advertising would not apply to them. Moreover, the MP claimed that the strict regulation would encourage local broadcasters to move their operations out of the country.
Eventually Matuzas even got conservative Antanas Matulas on his side. Matulas has long been known to be a confirmed crusader against alcohol use, yet now he eased on his strong rhetoric. Last September, Matulas declared that the complete ban was indeed premature and should be pushed back.
However, right after the amendment bill was passed, Matulas sang quite a different song: “…we look up to lobbyists seated in the balconies and vote according to their demands. I am truly ashamed, dear colleagues. Let’s correct this mistake…”
If Matuzas is found guilty of accepting bribes, it is not yet clear what will happen to the Alcohol Control Law, there are no statutes available detailing how to act with bills that were signed into laws after bribery. Furthermore , there is no precedent for a case like this.
If you’d like to know more about the cancelled ban on alcohol advertising in Lithuania, see our earlier articles:
Industry declares war on proposed alcohol advertising ban in Lithuania (06/17/11)
Lithuanian government to vote on 2012 ban on alcohol advertising (11/08/12)
The President of the Republic of Lithuania and the Lithuanian Parliament do not want a ban of alcohol advertisement (12/20/12)