Lithuanian MEPs: easy to hide, hard to seek
Lithuanian MEPs benefit from the legal immunity of the European Parliament by avoiding or delaying their national cases of bribes and fraudulent financial management.
The European Parliament is said to be a perfect place to start and to finish political career. However Lithuanian examples suggest its new role, in practice called as “shelter”. While some MEPs enjoy their warming legal immunity, the country has to put even more efforts to bring them home. The court, jail or, as usually, new elections are waiting there.
The latest ones of the national Parliament, which were held in 2016, were a disaster for populist parties, whose founders are Lithuanian MEPs Rolandas Paksas and Viktor Uspaskich. None of these managed to get any seats. “This is because I was not in the party. I think that party should exist at least until I will exist,” says V. Uspaskich.
Only few months ago he decided to show up at the national political stage and to become a head of the Labour party again after he “left” the politics for ever. Not the European Parliament though – the institution, where local media and voters concentrate way less.
The importance of the European Parliament increased significantly after the latest treaty of Lisbon, but it still seems that Lithuanian society is not familiar with its power. No need to work hard for a mandate: either charisma, either famous names or bright idea of getting rid of someone wins.
This is how we come to V. Uspaskich, who has run for the European Parliament twice, as many times as he lost his legal immunity there in 2015. Most likely it was not the best year for this politician, yet definitely not the worst.
Complicating legal cases
Recently we could celebrate a decade from when V. Uspaskich, as a head of the party, was accused of fraudulent financial management, showing 7 million Euros of undeclared cash in party coffers. Unfortunately, there is nothing to celebrate.
The game of „hide and seek“ started then, which made difficulties to fairly sentence V. Uspaskich. He fled for and back to Russia, asking for an asylum due to Lithuania persecuting him. This case was delayed repeatedly because of illnesses or political processes. European Parliament, which he has been elected to, paused the legal case by giving immunity of MEP.
“They use every possible political method to prolong and complicate legal cases. Running for the seat in the European Parliament is one of them,“ says Dr. Ramūnas Vilpišauskas, professor and director of Vilnius University Institute of International Relations and Political Science.
6,800 Euros – this is the fine that V. Uspaskich got, which he accepted with an open arms. Who would not? This allows politician to continue political career, which he seemed to have lost back then.
Being a member of Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE), V. Uspaskich was more active on national media, publishing his own comments as an MEP than actually working. According to qualitative analysis website “mepranking.eu”, this politician occupies 723rd position out of 746 MEPs on the activities in the Parliament.
“He did not perform any important work as a raporteur or similar, so it seems that European Parliament membership for him was mostly important as a refuge from national politics and legal processes,“ says Dr. R. Vilpišauskas. Similarly, Dr. Ingrida Unikaitė-Jakuntavičienė, Associate Professor and vice-dean of Vytautas Magnus University’s Faculty of Political Science and Diplomacy, claims that this politician is a phenomenon, who tries to act differently in front of people and to have unrelated benefits, on the other hand. Representing ALDE seems to be one of them.
“He, as a businessman, tend to be besides liberals. Logically, it is hard to define his political views, if even possible,“ says Petras Auštrevičius, Lithuanian MEP, a member of ALDE. Dr. R. Vilpišauskas explains that this political group works on pro-business policies, which V. Uspaskich supports.
Back to the roots
This politician has been working as an ordinary welder on construction of the gas pipeline in his native Russia, as well as in Lithuania. Back then, 30 years ago, no one would have believed that this young son of the forester is going to be one of the richest persons in Lithuania, the most iconic politician on the national stage. “V. Uspaskich satisfies the expectations of part of society on how a politician, a leader should act like. He is not afraid to be simple, his communication is immediate,” says Dr. Ingrida Unikaitė-Jakuntavičienė.
As Rome was not built in a day, his career also took time to pursue and gas pipeline became the main culprit of his, let us say, success. Not a secret that Russian gas monopoly “Gazprom” hired V. Uspaskich to mediate on providing gas for Lithuania. This position earned him millions, which businessman then increased by buying stocks of food enterprises. “Krekenavos agrofirma” and “Kėdainių konservų fabrikas“ are well-known Lithuanian companies, modernized in 2003 by finances of ES program SAPARD, dedicated to help local agriculture. Coincidence or not, but 20 percent of funding accrued to V. Uspaskich, who back then was a head of Lithuanian Parliament’s Committee on Economics.
Less visible, equally challenging
R. Paksas, former President of Lithuania, who was the first European head of state to have been impeached, currently enjoys the benefits of EP, being a member of Eurosceptic political group Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy. Besides his constitutional violations, in July of this year R. Paksas was officially accused of corruption, after the European Parliament lifted his immunity. The case has started in 2015, but it took Lithuanian prosecutors more than two years to finally be able to accuse an MEP.
“In my opinion, political persecution went out to 15 years. Nothing else is here,” says R. Paksas for Lithuanian news portal “DELFI.lt”.
“People vote for them, this is another topic. I do not think that they act extremely specific in the European Parliament. Actually they disappear there. Skills and visibility of Lithuanian populists are not European, they are national or regional at best. Do not overestimate an influence of our populists,“ says P. Auštrevičius.