Picture by Juozas Valiusaitis
|Member of the 11th Seimas of Lithuania|
16 November 2012 – 19 June 2014 (Impeached)
|Prime Minister||Algirdas Butkevicius|
|Succeeded by||Gintaras Aleknonis (refused to be sworn in)|
|Succeeded by||Stasys Brundza|
|Born||21 May 1971|
Kaunas, Lithuanian SSR, Soviet Union
|Political party||Way of Courage|
|Spouse(s)||Aidas Venckus (until 2014)|
|Residence||Chicago, Illinois, United States|
|Alma mater||Vilnius University|
Neringa Venckiene is a Lithuanian judge, politician, writer, and a former member of the Seimas of Lithuania. She was involved in exposing a pedophile ring with high-ranking officials involved. After receiving death threats, she fled to the United States in 2013 and asked for political asylum.
Early life and education
In 1989, she graduated from "Garliava 1st High School" with high honors. From 1989 to 1995, she studied at Vilnius University, law faculty. From 2005, she studied her doctorate at Mykolas Romeris University.
From 1995 to 1999, Venckiene worked as a jurist at Lithuanian University of Agriculture (now Aleksandras Stulginskis University). From 1999 - 2007 she worked as a Kaunas District Court judge and served as an appeal judge at Kaunas Regional Court from 2007 to 2012.
Venckiene's brother, Drąsius Kedys, and his former girlfriend, Laimutė Stankūnaitė had an out-of-wedlock daughter in February 2004. The couple split up in 2006. His former girlfriend originally obtained the custody of the girl. But later gave custody to the father, stating that she could not afford to take care of the child.
On 29 November 2008, Kedys submitted a formal complaint to the police, claiming that Andrius Ūsas, an advisor to the speaker of the Parliament, paid Stankūnaitė to sexually molest his daughter. On this basis, in December 2008, Kedys obtained full custody of his daughter with no visitation rights for Stankūnaitė, but the courts repeatedly confirmed that Stankūnaitė had no case to answer, thus dismissing Kedys' allegations against his former girlfriend as unsubstantiated. The pre-trial investigation against Ūsas, nevertheless, continued. In February 2009, Kedys further pressed accusations against Violeta Naruševičienė, a sister of Stankūnaitė, claiming the former had allowed men to molest his 4-year-old daughter. In July 2009, Kedys also accused Jonas Furmanavičius, a district judge, and an unidentified individual known only as Aidas, of partaking in the molestation. All of those people (except for the unidentified Aidas) professed their innocence, and in turn accused Kedys of slander, criminal libel, and death threats.
In 2009, frustrated with the apparent lack of progress in official investigations and convinced that the case was being deliberately stonewalled, Kedys sent out some 200 DVDs to Lithuanian politicians, media outlets, and law-enforcement agencies, featuring homemade video footage of his daughter's explicit testimony against three "uncles". He promised to send out the subtitled version to Members of the European Parliament. Many sources criticized Kedys, who acted as the cameraman, for asking his daughter leading questions and heavily editing the film (it contains some 50 segments filmed over nine separate occasions).
On 5 October 2009, Furmanavičius and Naruševičienė were shot dead in Kaunas. Kedys became the prime suspect. On the same day, a nationwide search for Kedys was announced, which was soon followed by an announcement of an international search, as he was thought to have left the country shortly after the murders. Kedys' blind friend Raimundas Ivanauskas and his wife Eglė Barauskaitė were charged with accessory to murder. In 2016, Barauskaite was found to be innocent, Ivanauskas was found guilty and sentenced to 8 years in prison.
The custody of the girl was given to Kedys' sister Venckiene.
The story caused an uproar in Lithuania, much of the public siding with Kedys: in the public mind, the case was seen as largely a father's futile attempts in pursuing justice and trying to protect his daughter, and by being driven to desperate measures by anger at the injustice. Others questioned whether the killings were in fact commissioned by Kedys himself.
After six months of police search, Drąsius Kedys' body was found near Kaunas Reservoir on April 20, 2010. According to the official report, the cause of death was "choking on his own vomit" whilst being heavily intoxicated. However, his relatives were convinced that Kedys had been murdered, pointing to some wounds on his body, and the fact the there was no vomit found on the scene.
On April 24, the body of Kedys was buried in Jonučiai cemetery. According to various media reports, some six to ten thousand people from across the country attended the ceremony.
In May 2010, the court gave custody of the girl to the biological mother Stankunaite. Outraged by this decision, according to different sources, up to 2000 people surrounded Venckiene's home and would not let the police pass.
Ūsas, the main suspect in the pedophilia case, was officially charged with sexual molestation of a minor. However, he was found dead in June 2010. According to the police, he fell off his all-terain vehicle and dronwed in 8 inches of water. The death was ruled an accident. The court case against Ūsas continued. The court found him innocent in November 2012.
After the continued protests and demonstrations, the court reversed its decision to transfer the custody of the girl to the mother. But in 2011, custody was once again awarded to the biological mother. The vigil outside Venckiene's house started again.
On March 23, 2012, police surrounded the house and attempted to take the girl by force. The girl refused to go. The failed attempt was broadcast on national TV. People were outraged at the footage of the mother and her bodyguard attempting to pull the screaming girl away from the grandmother. This attempt was stopped by child protective services, stating that it was traumatizing the child. After March 23 the girl developed PTSD.
At 6am on 17 May 2012, 240 police officers went to Venckiene's home. The police shut down the roads, closed the local school, and enforced a lockdown of a 2-mile perimeter around Venckiene's house. The protesters were pulled aside, 39 of them arrested. Police used rubber sticks, electric shock, police dogs, tear gas and rubber bullets. After a failed attempt to get in the house through the main entrance, the police broke the side glass door. Police turned off the security cameras inside the home. The girl was carried away screaming.
After the girl was transferred, the footage of the police operation went viral. Around 200 people spontaneously showed up to protest at the Presidential Palace in Vilnius. Smaller protests occurred in other Lithuanian cities as well.
President Dalia Grybauskaite addressed the nation, requesting an investigation into whether force was used against the girl.
On May 19, according to various sources, 1000-5000 Venckiene's supporters protested at the Presidential Palace in Vilnius. On the same day, the President attended a NATO Summit in Chicago. A few hundred Lithuanian-Americans surrounded Grybauskaite's car and would not let her pass.
The massive protests continued for a few months. Lithuanians are still demonstrating on the 17th of every month till this day.
In June 2012, Venckiene resigned her judgeship after the parliament voted to remove her legal immunity (five charges were brought against her). She stated that she could not be a judge anymore; "I cannot be a part of such a system where justice is being declared, but not being sought and implemented to the highest extent, where corruption remains important stimulus to action, where a higher hierarchical position is reached via corrupted relationships or secret deals, but not through the quality of professional work. I cannot be a part of a system that does not serve truth, individuals, and homeland".
Venckiene became the face of the new The Way of Courage political party. The goals include changes in the justice system, the establishment of trial by jury, and stricter punishments for corruption, rape and pedophilia.
The parliament approved the prosecutors' request to remove Venckiene's legal immunity on April 9, 2013. She fled to the United States on the day of the removal of her immunity.
In June 2014, Venckiene was impeached and her mandate removed. She was the first person to be impeached without being present or legally informed about the proceedings. Gintaras Aleknonis, who was supposed to take Venckiene's place in parliament, refused to be sworn in, in protest. He stated "I don't have words to describe this situation [...] I think that all honest people perfectly understand, and you can't explain it to the rest anyways".
Prosecution and Alleged Political Persecution
On 2 August 2010, a disciplinary case was brought against Venckiene by the Judicial Discipline and Ethics Commission. It was noted that "speaking with the press, also publicly criticizing the improper pre-trial investigation, and the institutions of the pre-trial investigation, stating a negative opinion about other people, and publicly accusing them, also writing complaints in her brother's name, and using disrespectful words to describe people about who she wrote documents, violated the Judicial ethical code of conduct".
In 2011, the Judicial Discipline and Ethics Commission gave a warning to Venckiene, because "Venckiene in her actions and statements in the public media violated Judges etiquette code of conduct regarding respecting a person, loyalty to the country, unbiasedness, selflessness, respect and example principles".
In April 2012, G.Kryzevicius, the chairman of the Supreme Court of Lithuania, called Venckiene "an abscess in judicial and political system" and "the trouble of the whole state".
On 23 May, General Prosector asked the Parliament to remove Venckiene's legal immunity on 5 charges.
On 26 June, Venckiene's immunity was removed, she resigned as a judge.
On 16 August 2012, former political prisoners of Soviet Union made a public plea to the U.S. and the E.U. to investigate the political persecution of Venckiene stating that "institutions began to apply double standards and treat her differently than they have previously treated other Lithuanian citizens". It was noted that Venckiene was "the first individual with legal immunity whose freedom was restricted without the consent of the Parliament". Also criticizing the prosecutors for the first time in history, personally serving officials documents, demanding that Venckiene be questioned, while she was undergoing a surgical procedure; "they are threatening to closely monitor and even supervise N. Venckiene’s treatment in order to interrogate and indict her as quickly as possible". The plea was signed by 8 former political prisoners of USSR.
In 2012, 6 charges were brought against Venckiene, including not following a court order, assault, disrespecting the court.
Among the biggest Venckiene's supporters were a former political prisoner Nijole Sadunaite, a signer of the Lithuanian Declaration of Independence Algirdas Vaclovas Patackas, former Minister of Foreign Affairs Povilas Gylys, and MP Naglis Puteikis. While she was constantly criticized by the chairman of the Liberal Party Eligijus Masiulis, Police General Commissioner (at the time) Saulius Skvernelis and MP Algirdas Sysas.
Venckiene asked for political asylum in the United States in 2013.
In 2015, the Lithuanian authorities requested the extradition of N.Venckiene back to Lithuania. At the time she faced 39 criminal charges, including illegal surveillance, disrespecting the national anthem, and public statements to infringe on sovereignty of Lithuania.
Additional charges were brought against Venckiene, including an attempt to overthrow the government, spying, and a threat to the state. These charges were later dropped.
In 2017, two of the charges were dropped because, according to the prosecutors, "it was connected to politics" and "it could be a reason for Venckiene not to be extradited".
In February 2018 Venckiene was arrested in Chicago and detained in Chicago's federal prison.
Since the arrest, many influential Lithuanians made public statements regarding Venckiene. N.Sadunaite stated that "if U.S. extradites N.Venckiene [...] they will be signing her death sentence". MP Petras Grazulis said that "this situation reminds me of Soviet oppression [...] she will not receive a fair trial". Lithuanian comedian Valdas Vizinis believes that Venckiene has already been trialled in the media "constant slander of N.Venckiene and her supporters [...] on LRT (state owned television)". Also stating that "it's impossible for Venckiene to receive a fair trial".
On 18 April 2018, Venckiene, giving an interview to Associated Press stated that "they have no reason to have me back but to kill me". American Judge Virginia Kendall refused to block Venckiene's extradition.
Initiatives in Congress
On June 25, 2018 U.S. Congressman Chris Smith from New Jersey introduced a private bill in the House of Representatives "for the relief of Judge Neringa Venckiene, who the Government of Lithuania seeks on charges related to her pursuit of justice against Lithuanian public officials accused of sexually molesting her young niece".
On September 27, the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the U.S. Helsinki Commission held a hearing titled: "Politically Motivated (In)Justice - The Extradition Case of Judge Venckiene". The Commission is independent U.S. government agency which was created 1975 to monitor Human Rights Violations and to encourage compliance with the Helsinki Final Act.
The Government of Lithuania decided not to participate in the hearing.
Venckiene's son Karolis Venckus testified in the hearing. He stated: " my mom was an inconvenient obstacle to the corrupt legal and political systems, and it was not safe for her in Lithuania anymore".
Former Member of the Lithuanian Parliament, Dr. Vytautas Matulevicius testified: " the case of N. Venckienė itself can be regarded as a typical recurrence of the Soviet legal system - a person who talks too much about the crimes of influential people is labeled a criminal herself".
Professor Mary Graw Leary stated: "In Judge Venckiene’s case, assertions have been made that the child at issue in this case was not only sexually abused, but that the child’s mother was complicit in allowing the abuse. In the course of the Commission’s review of this case, should it encounter evidence of this compliance being in exchange of something of value, or that the victim’s mother received a benefit for her consent to sexually abuse her daughter, such information would suggest a case involving child sex trafficking".
Human Rights attorney Abbe Jolles testified: "There is much evidence that the extradition demand for Judge Venckiene is politically motivated. When charges are politically motivated the Secretary of State must refuse extradition. An “army” of 240 federal officers converging on a private home, to take custody of one little girl, is a powerful indicator of political motivation. There are many other indications of political motivation including the nature of all but one of the 39 charges added over the past 6 years".
On February 2nd, 2019 Rep. Smith re-introduced the "Give Judge Venckiene Her Day In Court Act" in the 116th Congress of the United States.
In October of 2009, after the disappearance of Venckiene's brother, Kedys, the vice-chairman of the Polish Parliament, Stefan Niesiołowski advocated for granting asylum to Kedys in Poland. According to the polling conducted by TVN television, 97% of the Polish citizens supported this proposal. 
"Drasius' Hope To Save The Girl" (Drąsiaus viltis – išgelbėti mergaitę) (2011), 328 pages.
"The Way of Courage" (Drąsos keliu) (2012), 128 pages.
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