Maldeikis resigns amid storm of protest

  • 2001-02-08
  • Rokas M. Tracevskis
VILNIUS - At an evening meeting with leaders of his Liberal Union party on Feb. 5, Economy Minister Eugenijus Maldeikis handed in his resignation after a damaging scandal that has lasted three weeks. Just a few hours earlier, his friend Prime Minister Rolandas Paksas, had repeated his demands that Maldeikis stay in office.

Maldeikis, who came under fire after a controversial meeting with officials from Russian gas giant Gazprom, resigned on the same day that the High Commission of Service Ethics obtained documents proving that Maldeikis' expenses for an exclusive hotel in Moscow were paid by a shady businessman with an unclear past. These documents have already been revealed to the Lithuanian public by the television station LNK.

While Paksas avoided clear answers when questioned by reporters about Maldeikis during the scandal, both the country's president and parliamentary speaker have stuck to their negative opinions about the economy minister. Presidential adviser Darius Kuolys said on Feb. 1 that, "President Valdas Adamkus has given a negative evaluation of the minister's conduct and is not going to change his opinion."

Adamkus is currently on vacation in Mexico, but he is reported to be following the Maldeikis story closely.

Adamkus' press secretary Violeta Gaizauskaite said the president does not understand the motives behind Paksas' indecisiveness in the Maldeikis case.

The leaders of the opposition Social Democratic Party criticized Maldeikis' scandalous trip to Moscow and Paksas' behavior alike. "It seems that Maldeikis is more important to Paksas than the stability of the ruling coalition and good relations with the president," Social Democrat MP Ceslovas Jursenas said.

Parliament Chairman Arturas Paulauskas, leader of the other party in the governing coalition, the Social Liberals, told reporters on Feb. 1, "It will be difficult for Maldeikis to continue working in a ministerial post."

The High Commission of Service Ethics said on Jan. 31 that Maldeikis' behavior during his visit to Moscow did not cause a conflict between public and private interests. However, it did find that Maldeikis breached a government order for organizing and conducting visits, an article in the law on governance and the regulations of the Foreign Ministry.

The commission consists of four prominent lawyers and poet Justinas Marcinkevicius. Three members of the commission voted in favor of this decision, one voted against and another abstained.

Maldeikis came under fire earlier this month for a Jan. 13-15 trip to the Russian capital to see officials of the giant Russian utility Gazprom, LUKoil and the Russian energy company Inter RAO YES. The controversy arose when Antanas Bosas, head of the company Stella Vitae, a major player in the Lithuanian gas market with business ties to Gazprom, told local media he had helped to arrange a meeting between Maldeikis and top Gazprom officials. Maldeikis denied it.

The issue is sensitive as the Lithuanian gas utility Lietuvos Dujos is slated for privatization this year and Gazprom has said it is considering taking part in the sell-off.

The press revealed that Maldeikis did not stay at the Lithuanian Embassy's guest house, as is normally the case during visits of Lithuanian officials to Moscow, but instead checked into one of the fancier hotels the Russian capital has on offer, the Hotel Baltschug Kempinski.

After the High Commission of Service Ethics announced its decision, LNK showed documents that a company called Liat-Natali may have made the reservation for Maldeikis' room in the Baltschug Kempinski and secured a discount for his stay. The owners of Liat-Natali are Shabtay Kalmanovich and Yosif Kobzon. The Washington Times has called Kobzon, a famous Russian singer, "the tsar of the Russian Mafia." Israel and the United States have barred his entry.

Kalmanovich, a citizen of Russia, Israel and Lithuania, was imprisoned as a Soviet spy in Israel during the Cold War years. Kalmanovich has not denied that he made the reservation for Maldeikis' room. Vytautas Andriulis, head of the High Commission of Service Ethics, received documents relating to these facts on Feb. 5 and said that new hearings on Maldeikis could take place. On that day, Maldeikis was still eager to stay in office.

Maldeikis failed to inform the Foreign Ministry about his visit to Moscow in appropriate forms. Maldeikis claims that he informed the ministry orally. During his meetings with the heads of LUKoil and RAO YES, Maldeikis was not assisted by diplomats from the Lithuanian embassy as is required in Lithuanian government regulations.

"Maldeikis informed us about his visit only a day before leaving for Moscow. We could do very little about it," Petras Zapolskas, director of the information and culture department of the Lithuanian Foreign Ministry, told The Baltic Times.