VILNIUS — New testimony about the death of a Lithuanian diplomat in Belarus suggests that the theft of American funds designated for the Belarusian pro-democracy movement may be a factor.
The Unites States tried to secret around $40 million into Belarus, Lithuanian prosecutors have been told, but much of it went missing along the way. The information is related to the case of deceased Vytautas Pociūnas who died in Belarus in 2006.
Throughout the past decade, the U.S. pumped tens of millions of dollars into pro-democracy groups aligned against the authoritarian Lukashenko regime. According to testimony by Lithuanian parliamentarian Kęstutis Masiulis, the U.S. allegedly sent the money via the Lithuanian foreign ministry to aid the opposition of President Aleksander Lukashenko, but a large chunk of the sum is said to have disappeared in Lithuania.
Diplomat Vytautas Pociūnas fell to his death in 2006 from the ninth floor of the InTourist hotel in Brest in mysterious circumstances. The Belarusian authorities declared at the time that there was no foul play involved and the Lithuanian prosecutors agreed without investigating. After pressure from within Lithuania from various people including the wife of the deceased, the case has been reopened.
It was suggested at the time that the fall was an accident and probably alcohol-related.
It was confirmed to prosecutors by former head of the Seimas National Security and Defense Committee, Algimantas Matulevičius, that Pociūnas was investigating the money trail of the missing funds at the time of his death.
The foreign ministry said in a statement last week that they deny any transaction of the alleged funds.
Masiulis, who was vice mayor of Vilnius at the time, believes the money went missing partly by funding some camps for Belarusian language students, which no longer have schools in their own country. Lithuania organizes camps for the students to study in the language.
He said that initially there was no money for the camps, but then funds from outside the state budget materialized to cover the costs. Co-organizer of the camps, former secretary of the foreign ministry Albinas Januška, denies the claims.