Businessman Tadas Karosas, 48, is famed not only for setting up businesses – like Čili restaurant chain – but also for his colourful life. The irony is that the man who once worked as criminal investigator is now himself prosecutors’ target, 15min.lt reports.
On 2 August, officers of the Special Investigation Services (STT) arrested the CEO of Čili Holdings and the company’s accountant and charged them with offering a 30-thousand-litas (8.7 thousand euros) bribe to a bankruptcy administrator in exchange for decisions favourable to their companies.
The officers declined to name the bankrupt company in question.
Offence as form of defence
Karosas was released 24 hours later, having paid a bail of 50 thousand litas (14.5 thousand euros). The businessman then turned dramatic – no sooner had he left detention when he started complaining to reporters about appalling conditions in which he was kept: awful detention centre, dirty, unkept, tap water for drinking.
Karosas pleads not guilty. He says that the 30-thousand-litas bribe to the bankruptcy administrator was given by an employee of his company. He himself allegedly had no knowledge of it.
And then Karosas went into offence. In an interview to the Verslo Žinios business daily, he declared that the arrest was a provocation aimed at misleading STT officers. The businessman said he would reveal who was behind the scheme “after all this nonsense is over” and warned that “a legal but criminal organized ‘business’ of bankruptcy administration is already operating in Lithuania.”
When 15min tried contacting Karosas numerous times over the course of several days, he was constantly busy, even though his assistant Evelina Gliosaitė kept assuring he would get back to us. The director, she said, was either away or in a meeting – too busy to find five minutes to answer a few questions on the phone.
Interesting to note that four years ago, Karosas publicly observed that only people who gave too small bribes got caught for bribery: “The corruption has grown and acquired dimensions – in the Soviet or post-Soviet times, someone who’d come with a traditional vodka bottle or some other petty bribe would be thrown out or reported for bribery. We all see what’s happening and the extent of it. Awful.”
Karosas, 48, was born in Vilnius. After his father’s death, he and his brother were raised by their mother, a doctor. Karosas graduated from university with a law degree and got a job as investigator in Vilnius Prosecutor’s Office. His line of work was serious felony: murder, rape, crimes committed by police officers, and bribery.
In another interview to the Verslo Žinios in 2008, he said that his most memorable work in the Prosecutor’s Office was taming criminals – it was, he said, a real schooling in manhood.
“A trial of serious criminals of the time,” Karosas recalled one case. “I am representing the public. Suddenly the robbers unlock their handcuffs, jump out from that box, and head towards exits from the courtroom. Everything happens in a blink and ends as quickly as it began – I’m standing there with a splinter from a chair back in my hand, the main felon lying unconscious. Everyone – me included – slightly surprised.”
Some five years later, Karosas got tired of this line of work and decided to venture into the world of business. He was 28.
Entrepreneur of new businesses
Karosas has once summed up his work over the past twenty years as “setting up new businesses.”
He has taken part in opening utility and grocery shops, importing goods for these kinds of shops. He has also tried his hand in security business – he set up a firm Gelvorta that he later successfully sold to Falck Security.
In 1994, Karosas established Čili Holdings, the biggest restaurant chain in the Baltics. Successful as it was, he did not stop at that – eleven years ago, he set up Ltk Capital that owns Čili Holdings as well as e-stores Pigu.lt, 220.lv, Amazingsales.com, cosmetics wholesaler Kruzas Nordic Cosmetics Distribution, a chain of SPA centres East Island.
In the late 1990s, Karosas, along with Darius Mockus and a third shareholder, ran a company named Minvista. It owned cosmetics retailer chain Sarma, a restaurant-hotel in Palanga Šachmatinė, a shop Vilniaus Ridikas, companies Mineraliniai Vandenys, Trojina, and others.
Accordingo to Karosas own statements, formal management of the assets was left to Mockus. In year 2000, when the shareholders had to divide up the property, it turned out that Mockus was in charge. Karosas was allegedly left with what Mockus himself did not want to keep for himself.
The war over splitting up of the assets lasted eight months. All Karosas’ shares in Minvista, 29.5 percent, went to Mockus. In exchange, Karosas received the controlling interest in Sarma, Šachmatinė, Vilniaus Ridikas and several pieces of real estate.
There was another scandal that same year that involved Karosas and Mockus, sparked by a sudden death of fellow businessman Arvydas Grigas.
In early morning on 20 January 2000, Grigas got up, went to his bathroom and suddenly dropped dead. Officers looked into the mysterious death and, a month later, forensic experts presented their findings: Grigas’ cause of death was ethylen glycole poisoning. It is a compound used in automotive antifreeze. Vilnius District Attorney opened a criminal investigation into suspected poisoning. Karosas and Mockus were brought in for questioning.
In the end, it was decided to exhume Grigas’ body and the poisoning version was rejected. The new conclusion stated that the businessman died of natural causes. Not everyone was convinced though.
Convicted and beaten up
Good name of the leader is a major factor in the success of a business. Weber Shandwick, world’s leading communication company, has determined that two-thirds of a company’s market value comes down to the reputation of its leadership, while good reputation of the leader contributes as much as one half to good reputation of the company. Karosas’ name has continually been associated with scandals of greater or lesser extent.
Last spring, Karosas angered his neighbours by building a swimming pool – without necessary permits – on top of an apartment building in Žirgo Street in Vilnius. To silence his neighbours’ complaints, the businessman offered to build them a luxurious glasshouse on the same roof. Complaints, however, did not stop.
In spring last year, Karosas drove through a crossing ignoring the red traffic light. When the police stopped him, he refused to get tested for alcohol.
His driver’s licence was suspended for two and a half years, in addition to a 2,500-litas fine. Karosas argued against the decision, claiming it was a friend of his who was behind the steering wheel. However, as the said friend failed to appear in all hearings, Karosas’ appeal was rejected.
One night in June 2006, the businessman was seriously beaten outside his own restaurant in Palanga, Šachmatinė. Karosas was taken to an intensive care unit in Klaipėda.
Women in his life
Another area that put Karosas on headlines are his relationships with women. The businessman has been married and brought up two kids. Afterwards, he had a 9-year relationship with a known marketing specialist and former TV host, Jūratė Bitinaitė. In summer 2009, during her 30th birthday celebration in New York, Karosas proposed. However, their relationship was over as soon as spring 2010.
After Bitinaitė, Karosas got involved with Indrė Kuklytė, a woman 20 years his junior and current fiancée. In May this year, the coupled lost their 3-week-old soon. The infant was diagnosed with a heart disease. Karosas said it was one of the toughest moments in his life.
Suspended his role
On 8 August, following arrest over bribery charges, Karosas announced he was suspending his role in all the companies where he worked or was a board member, including Čili Holdings
“Any claims or interpretations suggesting that I was acting in the above-mentioned events in the capacity of Čili Holdings president are false and do not correspond to reality,” Karosas claimed in a press release. “As citizen and taxpayer, I have a right to know whether it was all a misunderstanding or a conscious and pre-planned provocation. I want to assure that we will put all effort into discovering the truth as soon as possible.”