- July 19, 2012
Their land has been stolen – and the law does not protect them
Lithuanian word for “justice” comes probably from the word “case”, and the Lithuanian justice system seems to think that the more cases there is and the longer they are pending, the more justice is in the country.
This truth is found out every day by Albin Kułakowski’s family and relatives. They are from former Vilnius Boyars, which became now a new rich, awash with prestigious villas Bajorai district of the capital city. On one side stand they – small, old, sick people. On the other side – a powerful gang of crooks, big business, banking tycoon… and the Lithuanian justice system.
The story – or the tragedy – of Kułakowski’s siblings, who had recovered several hectares of patrimony in Boyars, began back in 2006 when they accidentally found out that their land was sold and its buyer – a large building company – is going to start building there soon. Although the problem was quickly explained and it turned out that the siblings became victims of scammers who sold the property in the prestigious districts of Vilnius unbeknownst to the owners, they still cannot recover the stolen land and they are more and more worried that they will never get it back again. It turns out that both the company, which bought the stolen land from the criminals, and the bank, which granted the mortgage to this company, demand a legitimation of the purchase contract and mortgage.
What’s more, the concerned bank, “Swedbank”, said in court that even if the land will be returned to its original owners, they would have to pay the mortgage debt, because – according to the Lithuanian law – the mortgage is to be transferred to the owner.
Moreover, the building company, “Junesta”, which bought the stolen land from the thieves for more than 2.5 million litas, applied to the court for a validation of the purchase contract. The company considers itself as victimized. Just today, on Friday, the Vilnius Regional Court is to take a decision on the matter.
‘It is a nonsense! The land was stolen from people – it is established by investigation. The criminals were also found, but the matter in court still lingers’, says Kułakowski’s lawyer, Kazimieras Baranauskas. In his opinion, Kułakowscy have already been harmed twice, because first the thieves robbed their property, and now they cannot get this property back. ‘This isn’t normal!’
The land owners also cannot understand what is happening.
‘I don’t understand why are we treated this way! We’re in no way guilty… But first the thieves and now this company and the bank want to take our land!’, Albin Kułakowski breaks down. He cannot understand why a big company and a big bank were so easily tricked by the thieves.
‘They could fool us easily, because we don’t know the law and don’t understand the official language. But they have lawyers, they have so many workers. Couldn’t they check our what they buy?’, Kułakowski wonders.
His lawyer points out another aspect – the liability of the notaries who approved day after day transactions worth millions of litas based on fraudulent notarial authorizations and false identity cards. Prosecutors and investigators, however, found no deficiencies in the work of the notaries, of whom at least one, whose name frequently appears in the investigation materials, could theoretically doubt the legitimacy of transactions.
The investigation materials show that in February 2006 an undetermined woman came to the notary office in Vilnius at Kaunas street. She possessed a forged identity card of Albin and John Kułakowski’s sister, Benedykta Bernatowicz, and, on the basis of a forged authorization, she sold to Simonas Šidlauskas an area of 1.75 ha owned by Benedykta Bernatowicz and the common property of 3.2 ha in Bajorai owned by her and her brothers – Albin Kułakowski and John Kułakowski. The transaction amounted to the sum of 2.5 million litas.
The notary had no suspicions about falsified documents submitted to him, as well as – despite lack of evidence – he believed that the multi-million deal has already been settled. Just after three days after the approval of this agreement, Simonas Šidlauskas (as it was explained later, he was a person substituted by the gang, who agreed to act as a buyer of Kułakowski’s stolen property just for a few thousand litas) acted as a seller of the same land in another notary office. The buyer was substituted as well – it was Ala Baranowskaja, a colleague of one of the gang’s crooks. After a few days, Baranowskaja sold the land to the “Junesta” company, which took a mortgage lien on the land. Thus, robbing Kułakowski’s family and cheating the building company and the bank, and let’s assume that the notaries as well, the thieves cashed more than 2.5 million litas in just two weeks.
Investigators established that the head of the gang and the main organizer of the fraud was the son of a well-known Vilnius professor, Laurynas Laurinčikas. All detained pointed at him. He categorically rebutted the charges against him.
However, the court didn’t determine the proportion of fault of the members of the gang, because Laurinčikas died in 2009. He was in his thirties.
The investigation materials show that Kułakowski’s family weren’t the only victim of scammers. According to a similar pattern, they robbed and cheated at least several land owners, businessmen and banks. They earned on these “transaction” more than 6 million litas; the money haven’t been recovered yet, and perhaps the investigators won’t manage to recover them. Laurinčikas’s companions claim that they got only a few thousand litas from the whole sum – the rest was picked up by the head, who squandered the money quickly on gambling, drugs and wildly lavish wedding with guests received in the balloons in the air. The only thing that remains from Laurinčikas’s fortune is a car worth over 200 thousand litas, which he registered as his mother’s. Although the car has been taken to pay off the claims of victims, Laurinčikas’s mother demanded that the court shall give her the car back. Therefore, all purchasers of the stolen land – one private person, two companies and banks that gave loans, cannot expect to recover more money from the accused in the case.
And contrary to the principle that unlawful activity brings no legal effects, the accused demand to give them ownership of the land stolen from the people. In some cases, it works. Because – as told us the daughter of another person who lost the land because of the gang’s activity – she has to fight now for her mother’s rights to the land at court, alone against the banks, notaries and bailiffs.
And the law? Unfortunately, it doesn’t stand on her side. Her mother was robbed in 2005. An elderly woman died without receiving justice. Her daughter is desperate and she no longer believes in justice and in finding it in Lithuanian courts. She is afraid to even give her name, she says, because the law gives her no protection and stands on the side of land buyers, who bought the land from thieves.
First, the court annulled the arrest of the stolen land in a criminal case, and in the meantime, while the woman was coming from court to court fighting for recovery of her mother’s property in civil proceedings, a new buyer sold the land to the next purchaser, who then took a mortgage. Later, when he couldn’t account for the loan, the bailiff put the land up for auction; the newest buyer doesn’t have to worry, because the Lithuanian law provides that any property purchased at auction is no longer subject to restitution of property rights.
Albin Kułakowski is afraid of similar scam in law, as he cannot use his land for six years now, because according to the law he isn’t the owner anymore, although he has never sold his land to anyone.
‘We had a farm, a cow, pigs and other, so the earth was our provider. Now, we don’t have almost anything… I don’t know if we ever get back the land’, says Albin Kułakowski. Because, as he says, the case is pending for a few years, and there is no justice in it.
The man’s health deteriorated. He moves with a cane and now even going to court for another hearing is a very troublesome thing for him.
Tłumaczenie Ewelina Zarembska w ramach praktyk w Europejskiej Fundacji Praw Człowieka, www.efhr.eu. Translated by Ewelina Zarembska within the framework of a traineeship programme of the European Foundation of Human Rights, www.efhr.eu.