VILNIUS - A desperate attempt by Viktor Uspaskich to defend his integrity and prove that he indeed received a diploma from a Moscow institute seemed to fall flat, with even some of his coalition partners refusing to buy into the authenticity of the Labor Party leader's story.
After nearly two months of dodging reporters' questions, tycoon Uspaskich took to the airwaves, with a duplicate of his diploma in hand, in order to prove to his compatriots that he was a graduate of a prestigious Moscow economics institute. He rigorously rejected suspicions that the document could be falsified and blamed political rivals for setting a trap for him.
"In the past few months, there have been attempts of all kinds to discredit me, my family, friends and partners. I say today, openly, that all the dirt poured on me is nothing more than the outcome of the efforts by the interest groups fiercely fighting for power and influence," he said on three television stations.
In his official biography, the Russia-born leader indicated that he had graduated from the Plekhanov Economics Academy in 1993. However, academy officials earlier this summer wrote a letter to Ekstra, a Lithuanian magazine, indicating that they could not find the name of Uspaskich in their records.
Furthermore, not only did school officials say that Uspaskich wasn't on their student list, but they also said that such a specialization as Uspaskich's wasn't in the academy's curriculum that year.
At the time of the report, Uspaskich denied alleged forgery of his higher education diploma and said he would provide proof the next day. Still serving as minister, he departed for Russia, and it was from there that he reportedly faxed his resignation statement to Prime Minister Algirdas Brazauskas.
Many politicians reacted to Uspaskich's display with consternation and skepticism. Many wondered why the millionaire spent hundreds of thousands of litas on television shows, which essentially won't help his situation, and why he didn't take the diploma to the Centre for Assessment in Higher Education for analysis.
"Uspaskich is trying to buy for big money the opinion and confidence of people. What he said is mere speculation," Rasa Jukneviciene, an influential member of the opposition Conservative party, told the Elta news agency.
Jukneviciene affirmed that Uspaskich's behavior 's presenting the diploma so long after the scandal erupted 's caused doubts. Such a lengthy "search" for the document, she said, make people strongly doubt the authenticity of the document.
"If Uspaskich can easily allow himself to spend several hundred thousand for a several minute monologue on television, we can only guess what sums he could have spent to arrange the diploma matters in Moscow," said Conservative Jurgis Razma in a public statement.
In fact, Uspaskich's duplicate only raised more questions. There are still no answers as to why the transcript shows only "passed" and no other grades, and why the stamps on the diploma now do not match those that appear on the copies of the diploma previously submitted by Uspaskich.
Observers have also wondered why Uspaskich claimed that his original diploma was in the archives of Plekhanov Academy if a fellow party member has said he had been recently shown the original.
On July 29, Lithuania's Embassy in Moscow received an official statement from the academy confirming that Uspaskich was enrolled as a student at the institution. Nevertheless, the officials did not answer the embassy's questions regarding the authenticity of Uspaskich's diploma.
Lithuanian institutions are reportedly preparing to send further inquiries about the diploma to Russia.
"The question was very clear to the academy, but the answer we received speaks about different things from what we asked," Egidijus Stumbrys, head of the Assessment in Higher Education, said.
"Instead of answering the questions, they demonstrably parried them. It only makes us think that the question was not wanted to be understood because the answer would be awkward," he said.
Stumbrys added that officials looking into the matter still hoped to address the Russian Ministry of Education.