Fugitive to run for parliament

The Baltic Times
Kimberly Kweder, VILNIUS
September 13, 2007.

Controversial political figure Viktor Uspaskich is bidding for a seat in the Lithuanian parliament, despite the fact that he has been hiding out in Russia for over one year, on the run from Lithuanian law enforcement agencies.

Jonas Urdis, a member of Lithuania”s Central Electoral Commission, told The Baltic Times that Uspaskich applied for candidacy this month with the help of his lawyer.

“There”s no legal way of forbidding him to take part in the election role,” Urdis said. “He”s only a suspect, this doesn”t stop you from getting registered as a candidate.”

The CEC voted unanimously to include his name on the ballot.

Uspaskich, a Russianborn millionaire, founded the highly successful Labor Party in 2003 and became economic minister in 2004. However, in May 2006 the party became the subject of a police investigation and Uspaskich fell under suspicion of committing fraud while managing the party”s finances.

During the investigation Uspaskich returned to his native Russia to attend a funeral and has not been back since. Prosecutors have issued a warrant for his arrest.

Prosecutor General”s Office spokeswoman Aurelija Juodyte said an extradition request submitted to Russian authorities has been denied. A second request is still pending, she said.

Uspakich has asked for political asylum in Russia which would keep him protected from extradition.

Parliamentary candidates acquire legal immunity, therefore if Uspaskich is registered a candidate he can only be arrested with the Central Electoral Committee”s permission. On Sept. 5, the election commission approved the Prosecutor General”s request to remove that immunity.

If Uspaskich wins however, prosecutors would have to ask the permission of Parliament to continue the prosecution.

“There is a risk that such permission would not be given as the Labor Party has majority in the parliament now,” said Juodyte.

The Central Electoral Committee”s decision to register Uspaskich as a candidate has also been controversial due to his residency status. Lithuanian laws state that only permanent residents are eligible to run for office, and that a citizen of Lithuania who lives in a foreign country for more than six months must declare his new residence or be subject to fines.

Uspaskich declared his residence to be in Kedainiai, despite being on the Russian side of the border for more than a year.

Udris said the election laws give the former Labor Party leader legal options, however.

“The election law explains that one is a resident of Lithuania through official registration, or the second option is the citizen is recognized in the civil code as having permanent residency,” he said.

Political leaders in Lithuania expressed their confusion as to how Uspaskich was able to register his candidacy. President Valdas Adamkus said the CEC is not just a formal checker of documents.

“… The president is surprised how a man, who asked for political asylum in Russia, condemned Lithuania and its institutions, who is being sought by Lithuania”s legal bodies, can be registered as a candidate for Parliament,” the president”s media representative Rita Grumadaite told BNS.

Lithuania”s Parliamentary Speaker Viktoras Muntianas also said the CEC”s decision is legal, but not very fair.

The parliamentary bid isn”t Uspaskich”s first attempt to reenter the Lithuanian political sphere. He also ran in February”s municipal elections as a candidate in Kedainiai. That time his immunity was removed the day after his registration as a candidate. He won the municipality, but resigned in March.

Another nine candidates will run against Uspaskich for the Dzukija constituency on Oct. 7. Current MP Algird