Viewing cable 10VILNIUS115

10VILNIUS1152010-02-23 12:57:00 2011-08-30 01:44:00 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Vilnius

DE RUEHVL #0115/01 0541257
P 231257Z FEB 10
C O N F I D E N T I A L VILNIUS 000115 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 02/23/2020 
REF: 09 VILNIUS 615 
Classified By: Deputy Chief of Mission Damian R. Leader for reasons 1.4 
(b) and (d). 
¶1.  (U)  SUMMARY:  Lithuania's Minister of Health resigned 
effective February 22 in the aftermath of a corruption 
scandal in which a vice minister pled guilty to soliciting a 
bribe.  Raimondas Sukys, the first deputy speaker of the 
parliament and a former Minister of Interior, was nominated 
to become the new Health Minister.  The government's emphasis 
on reform of the health-care system is not expected to 
change.  The bribery scandal may well have adverse effects on 
the departed minister's political party.  It also appears 
that law-enforcement officials are probing for other evidence 
of corruption within the health ministry.  End summary. 
¶2.  (U)  Algis Caplikas, nominated as Health Minister by the 
Liberal and Center Union Party in late 2008 when the current 
coalition government was formed, will keep his parliamentary 
seat after his resignation from the Cabinet.  He announced 
his intention to resign on February 10, and President Dalia 
Grybauskaite formally accepted his resignation February 22. 
The Liberal and Center Union nominated another of its Seimas 
(parliament) members, Raimondas Sukys, as his replacement on 
February 22.  Prime Minister Andrius Kubilius had urged the 
party to choose Sukys, and Grybauskaite said she would 
appoint Sukys once Kubilius forwarded his nomination to her. 
¶3.  (U)  Caplikas' resignation was part of the fallout of the 
corruption conviction of Vice Minister Arturas Skikas, a 
doctor and local politician from western Lithuania, who was 
arrested January 21 after being accused of demanding a bribe 
of 20,000 litas (USD 8,000) from the director of the National 
Blood Center.  Skikas, one of three vice ministers, quickly 
pled guilty and received a suspended prison sentence of two 
years.  After his arrest, police questioned Caplikas and 
other health ministry officials in what appears to be a 
broader investigation into alleged corruption in the 
ministry.  Caplikas initially said he had no reason to 
resign, but that he took full political responsibility for 
Skikas and  would resign if necessary.  Kubilius said he had 
received no information from investigators linking Caplikas 
to any corruption, and did not see any need for the minister 
to resign.  But just two days later, Seimas Speaker Irena 
Degutiene said Caplikas would have difficulty securing 
support for reform of the health-care system and that she 
thought he should resign.  Later that day, Caplikas announced 
his resignation, citing a perceived lack of support from the 
coalition-leading Conservative Party as his reason.  Both 
Kubilius and Degutiene are Conservatives. 
¶4.  (U)  Restructuring of the health-care system has been the 
ministry's top priority.  Ministry officials say Lithuania 
has too wide a hospital network, with too many doctors and 
too many beds.  While that may be good for patients, it is 
ruinously expensive for a country in Lithuania's poor 
financial condition.  In a November meeting, Caplikas said 
(reftel) that reforms would also improve control of public 
procurement and safeguarding of public money, as well as more 
effective and efficient use of expensive medical equipment 
that is currently underutilized.  Grybauskaite, Degutiene and 
Kubilius have all said that it is important that reforms 
continue. (Media reports, however, have hinted that 
Degutiene, who suggested Caplikas should resign and who is 
herself a medical doctor and former hospital administrator, 
is not in favor of the reform program, although the Speaker 
has denied that.) 
¶5.  (U)  Sukys, nominated February 22 to replace Caplikas, 
currently serves as first deputy speaker of the Seimas, where 
he is in his third four-year term.  In 2006-07 he served as 
Interior Minister, but stepped down after a car driven by a 
drunken policeman killed three people.  He has worked as a 
lawyer in government and the private sector, and has taught 
civil law.  He has been a member of the Seimas 
anti-corruption committee. 
¶6.  (C)  Caplikas' resignation may exacerbate problems within 
the Liberal and Center Union Party.  The party's former 
leader, ex-Vilnius mayor Arturas Zuokas, resigned from the 
Seimas in November and was replaced by his wife, Agne 
Zuokiene, who was next on the party list though she is not 
officially a party member.  But she promptly announced that 
she would not caucus with the party and considers herself an 
unaffiliated legislator.  In addition, the convicted vice 
minister, Skikas, said he had taken the bribe on behalf of 
the Liberal and Center Union, of which he is also a member, 
though party leaders deny that the party was involved.  After 
Skikas' arrest, investigators seized some documents from an 
organization founded by Zuokiene that runs a breast-cancer 
prevention project and receives some funding from the 
Ministry of Health.  Law enforcement officials have not said 
whether the search was related to the corruption 
investigation at the ministry.  Zuokiene ran the 
organization, Azzara, before joining the Seimas; it is now 
run by Zuokas.  (NOTE:  As Vilnius mayor, Zuokas had a 
reputation for requiring payoffs for any significant 
construction project in the city; he also was convicted in 
2008 for involvement in the bribery of a city council member 
in 2003.  He was considered a front runner for the Health 
Minister post in late 2008 until Kubilius said he "would 
really like the new government to start work without any 
personal blemishes.")  Finally, one other Liberal and Center 
Union member, Zilvinas Silgalis, has said he is considering 
leaving the party's parliamentary faction.  If he did, that 
would leave only six members, too small under Seimas rules to 
constitute a faction.  On February 23, media reported that 
the Liberal and Center Union and the National Revival 
faction, which also has only seven Seimas members, were 
discussing formation of a joint faction. 
¶7.  (C)  COMMENT:  The change at the top of the Ministry of 
Health is unlikely to slow or significantly change the GOL's 
efforts to reform Lithuania's health-care system.  Caplikas 
was seen as a somewhat timid minister who did not push the 
reform agenda hard, so decisive action by Sukys could 
actually speed reform.  The Skikas case also has focused 
media and law-enforcement attention on other possible 
corruption in the Health Ministry and the health-care 
industry.  It is commonplace for patients to have to pay 
bribes to get access to medical resources or to get attention 
from doctors.  Anti-corruption police also are looking into 
at least one contract involving the ministry's State Patient 
Fund.  The Embassy has repeatedly questioned GOL officials 
about their failure to take advantage of a World Health 
Organization program (reftel) that would allow Lithuania to 
save money on the purchase of drugs to fight 
multi-drug-resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB).  Lithuania 
instead has continued to buy more expensive, locally produced 
drugs.  We do not yet know whether the anti-corruption police 
are investigating in that area, but plan to suggest to the 
new minister that he revisit the GOL's choices in the fight 
against MDR-TB.  End comment.