• 2004-11-25
And the hits just keep on coming from Lithuania.

Last week a Vilnius court convicted Russian businessman Yuri Borisov of blackmailing former President Rolandas Paksas in 2003, effectively ending a criminal case that began on Nov. 3, 2003, just days after the wiretapping scandal broke. But despite the seriousness of the crime of blackmail, and the extraordinary importance of the individual being blackmailed, the court ruled that the price of justice in this case amounted to 10,000 litas - or 2,900 euros. Thus for anyone who has been deliberating lately whether or not to blackmail a public official in Lithuania, you now have a solid yardstick to go by. If threatening the president costs less than 3,000 euros, then a minister would run at about 2,000 euros and local councilmen in the vicinity of a grand (though antagonizing Panevezys officials can be enjoyed at a deep discount).

For all the talk of farce in Ukraine right now, there is plenty right here at home.

Borisov, who heads a helicopter-repair outfit by the name of AviaBaltika, forked out some 350,000 euros to Paksas' president campaign in 2002 (though the actual figure could be much higher). Based on reports that materialized later, it appeared he did so in the understanding that he would receive hefty compensation for his financial sacrifices - something along the lines of a government post. But when Rolandas refused, Boris went berserk. The latter made a series of phone calls to the president's advisers and campaign staffers and promised to cause great damage to Paksas' reputation if he weren't given a post somewhere in the Presidential Palace.

As things turned out, the phones were tapped, and all the businessman's mellifluous harangues became a subject of criminal investigation. Later, when they were leaked, they became a subject of public debate. During one conversation with Algirdas Draksas, a businessman and member of Paksas' Liberal Democratic Party, Borisov expressed anger at not receiving a post of adviser. He said if the president didn't follow through on their agreement, he would "get his money back." In that case, he said, Paksas would become a "political corpse." As he later told the Lietuvos Rytas daily, "There was an agreement with the president. Of course there was. You do not just simply give your money to somebody and say good-bye."

Fair enough, but once Borisov started making threats, the nature of the two men's "agreement" changed - if only because Paksas had become head of state. The ferocity with which he went about challenging the president is alarming, and one can only wonder if there was more on the businessman's mind than simple vanity (the privatization of the alcohol distilleries, perhaps?)

Otherwise, a Borisov in the Presidential Palace, as the president's adviser ostensibly realized, would have been a loose cannon. The long-running investigation into AviaBaltika's deals with Sudan would have undermined the office. Paksas' people realized this, but Borisov didn't let up. As a result, he will be some 2,900 euros poorer (not including legal fees). Just another day in the office, really.