Viewing cable 09VILNIUS494

09VILNIUS4942009-09-24 08:06:00 2011-08-30 01:44:00 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Vilnius

DE RUEHVL #0494/01 2670806
P 240806Z SEP 09
C O N F I D E N T I A L VILNIUS 000494 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 09/24/2019 
Classified By: Charge d'Affaires Damian R. Leader for reasons 1.4(b) an 
d (d). 
¶1.  (C) Legal deficiencies identified by parliamentary 
lawyers have called into doubt the prospects of a draft law 
on Jewish property compensation.  The draft law would require 
the Lithuanian government to pay more than 50 million USD in 
compensation for Jewish communal property seized by Nazi and 
Soviet occupation regimes.  Parliamentarians and government 
officials hold divergent views on whether the bill's legal 
obstacles are insurmountable.  GOL officials tell us they 
remain committed to passage of the bill, though they are not 
open to the idea of improving the draft to better reflect the 
interests of the Lithuanian Jewish community.  End summary. 
¶2.  (U) In July, the GOL approved draft legislation for 
compensation of communal Jewish property expropriated by the 
Nazi and Soviet occupation regimes (reftel).  The plan calls 
for the GOL to pay 128 million litas (about 54.8 million USD) 
to a foundation to be determined by the GOL. The first 3 
million litas would be paid by March 2011 to support 
Holocaust survivors; the rest would be paid over 10 years 
beginning in 2012.  The bill was submitted to the Seimas, 
which was to consider it this autumn.  As part of the normal 
legislative process, the bill was sent to the Seimas legal 
department for review. 
¶3.  (U) We understand that the legal department has 
determined that, if the GOL was treating the Jewish community 
as a religious confession, it should rely on the existing law 
on restitution of property to religious groups. But if the 
purpose was to treat the Jewish community as an ethnic 
minority, they said, the draft law could violate 
constitutional principles of nondiscrimination, as it does 
not provide for compensation to other groups, such as 
Lithuania's Polish or Russian minorities.  Note: the GOL had 
earlier decided that using the religious-restitution law for 
Jewish property posed other legal difficulties, and wrote the 
new draft law specifically to avoid those difficulties. 
¶4.  (U) The Seimas lawyers also said the payment of 128 
million litas in state funds could run afoul of a 2005 
Constitutional Court ruling that said the GOL cannot impose a 
disproportionate burden on society in order to pay 
restitution claims.  The lawyers said the sum should be 
discussed to determine whether the payment would adversely 
affect spending in areas such as health care and education. 
Our reading of that court ruling, however, leads us to 
conclude that the draft law follows exactly the path directed 
by the court, in that it includes a provision allowing delay 
of compensation payments should the government find itself in 
economic straits. 
¶5.  (C) The draft law calls for the GOL to designate a 
foundation to be the recipient of restitution funds and to 
determine how the money would be spent.  Although the bill 
intentionally does not say so, Prime Minister Kubilius has 
assured the local and international Jewish communities that a 
foundation they established would be given that role.  The 
Seimas lawyers point out that the bill does not say how the 
foundation would be designated or regulated, nor what its 
relationship would be with the Jewish communities. 
¶6.  (C) The lawyer for (and deputy chairwoman of) the Jewish 
Community of Lithuania, Faina Kukliansky, told us on 
September 21 that the legal critique was devastating and 
would probably prove fatal for the current bill.  She said 
she feared that if the bill died, the Kubilius government 
would wash its hands of the matter, saying it had fulfilled 
its pledge to send a restitution bill to the Seimas. 
Audronius Azubalis, chairman of the Seimas foreign-affairs 
committee, told us September 22 that he also thought the 
conclusion that some articles in the draft law were 
unconstitutional could well mean the end of the bill as it 
now stands.  At the very least, Azubalis said, the bill and 
the legal conclusions would have to be carefully considered 
by the Committee on Legal Affairs before the full Seimas 
could take any action. 
¶7.  (C)  Emanuelis Zingeris, the only Jewish member of the 
Seimas and an influential voice on all Jewish issues that 
come before the GOL or the Seimas, told us September 22 that 
he remained confident the compensation bill would pass 
without major changes.  But he also said his opinion was 
based entirely on information he had received from the 
Jewish-affairs advisor to Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs 
Sarunas Adomavicius.  In a September 23 meeting with the 
Charge and the British Ambassador, Adomavicius, who oversees 
Jewish issues for the MFA, said the GOL thinks any problems 
posed by the legal conclusions are surmountable.  He said he 
had spoken with Justice Minister Simasius about the bill and 
was reassured that the bill could pass legal muster. 
Adomavicius told the Charge and the British Ambassador that 
the Kubilius government still had the political will to adopt 
the compensation law, and that Minister Simasius would 
formally present the bill in the Seimas soon. 
¶8.  (C) The British Ambassador urged Adomavicius to use the 
legal conclusions as an opportunity to bring together key 
players from the GOL, Seimas and Jewish community to look at 
any possible problems with the bill and to improve it, but 
Adomavicius did not respond.  In the past, he and other GOL 
officials have made clear to us that the Kubilius government 
will work for passage of this bill, but are not open to 
suggested changes. 
¶9.  (C) Comment:  Although the GOL has affirmed its 
commitment to passing the law on compensation for 
expropriated Jewish communal property, the legal conclusions 
from the Seimas law department make that path longer and more 
difficult.  The Kubilius government claims it has the 
political will to push the bill through, but whether it will 
demonstrate sufficient leadership and enforce party 
discipline to do so is questionable.  Adamovicius told us 
opposition parties do not oppose this bill.  But in tough 
economic times, some Seimas members will likely seize on the 
legal conclusions to try to cut the amount of compensation 
and extend the payment period.  There has been no media 
coverage yet of the legal conclusions, but past coverage of 
the compensation bill has provoked outrage and inflammatory 
commentary about Jews receiving exorbitant payments while 
ordinary Lithuanians are suffering.  Thus, media commentators 
can be expected to embrace the legal conclusions and use them 
in calls for compensation to be scrapped.  We will continue 
to encourage the government to persevere in moving this bill 
forward, while still trying to improve it.  Despite its 
serious flaws, the alternative is nothing.  End comment.