Minister in firing line over Lithuanian hunting trip

Agriculture Minister Janis Duklavs was under more pressure Friday after it emerged he took part in a hunting trip while on official business in Lithuania in July, as revealed by the BNS newswire. 

Already under fire for taking part in a off-the-record meeting with Russia's deputy Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovich in early August, it has now emerged that Duklavs took part in a hunting trip in July with Lithuanian Agriculture Minister Virginia Baltraitiene, Jonas Milius, director of Lithuania's State Food and Veterinary Service (SFVS), who has been charged with abuse of office powers, and Audrius Kantauskas, CEO of Lithuania’s Biovela meatpacking group.

The dinner with hunting reportedly took place in July, a day before Lithuanian law enforcement authorities conducted a search at the Milius-led SFVS.

The meeting has drawn criticism in Lithuania with questions also being raised about why a business executive was participating in a dinner with state officials.

Duklavs initially admitted that he indeed dined with Baltraitiene and Milius on the first day of his visit to Vilnius, but denied his participation in the hunt in Panevezys County.

On Friday, Duklavs attempted to explain that while he was present at the hunt he did not actively "participate" as he had no weapon.

Baltraitiene said that her Latvian counterpart not only attended the dinner, but was also present at the hunt.

Indeed not only was he present, he invited others to the hunt, Baltraitiene said in a press release Friday: "As far as I know, a few business figures were invited at the initiative of the Latvian minister, and the hunt was organized by one of the businessmen, Pranas Dailide."

Baltraitiene said that her husband and she attended a dinner with hunting in Panevezys County in honor of the Latvian agriculture minster’s visit. Apart from the two ministers, also taking part in the event were Milius, Maris Balodis, the head of the Latvian Food and Veterinary Service, several officials of the Lithuanian and Latvian veterinary authorities, as well as Biovela CEO Kantauskas. 

In Baltraitiene’s words, the dinner had been approved by the ministry, while Milius organized the hunt. Participants, however, paid to attend the hunt with their own money. 

Hunting trips were popular entertainments laid on for Soviet apparatchiks during the days of the occupation of the Baltic states with tales of drugged-up animals being prodded into the crosshairs of officials legendary.

More seriously however, the Lithuanian expose reignites questions about how open Duklavs is about his official and private activities. For a second time in as many weeks, Prime Minister Maris Kucinskis has asked Duklavs to clarify the precise circumstances of his trip to Lithuania. 

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