MPs vote to investigate PM Brazauskas' family business

  • 2005-11-09
  • By Milda Seputyte
VILNIUS - Although Prime Minister Algirdas Brazauskas salvaged his seat as head of government after a key coalition meeting on Nov. 2, he lost a tough battle against the Conservatives when Parliament approved an opposition-led initiative against him on Nov. 8.
After a first vote struck down the idea of a setting up an investigative commission, the conservative opposition stuck to its guns and obtained another vote. The second time around proved to be more successful, and a majority of MPs voted to set up an ad hoc group to probe the business dealings of the prime minister's family.

Brazauskas previously said that he would not testify if such a commission were set up and would even resign.

But after the disappointing first vote, Conservatives accused the ruling coalition of applying double standards. There was no opposition, they clamored, against ad hoc commissions to investigate Vilnius Mayor Arturas Zuokas or former Economy Minister Viktor Uspaskich.

"Is Brazauskas exceptional, and therefore different rules apply to him?" opposition leader Andrius Kubilius commented in the Seimas.

"The worst case in politics is when some leader of state believes that he is irreplaceable," he said.

Algirdas Monkevicius, chairman of the parliamentary ethics commission, has made it clear that he opposes the ruling coalition's decision. Monkevicius said that his commission would stand by its previous agreement to form, without a vote in Parliament, a group to investigate the Brazauskas family business.

He cited the legislature's earlier practice of creating an investigative commission if requested by at least 36 MPs.

The Parliament's decision was an abrupt change of fortunes for the head of government. Last week the ruling coalition's political council pledged its support of Brazauskas despite a schism that had appeared after Labor Party leader Uspaskich said it was time to replace the prime minister. The four sides even signed a special document containing their pledges to vote against the Conservatives' idea of a commission.

Though it was unclear how Brazauskas would respond by the time The Baltic Times went to press, it appeared he was preparing for a battle against the Conservatives. The first signs were seen on the eve of the political council's meeting, when stories about Conservative leader Rasa Jukneviciene first appeared in the local press.

The stories alleged that her husband, a lawyer, had benefited from the privatization of Mazeikiu Nafta, which the Conservative-dominated government of the time sold to the U.S.-based oil company Williams International.

On top of that, Brazauskas told national broadcaster Lietuvos Radijas [Lithuanian Radio] that he would sue the Conservatives for publicly voiced allegations of corruption.

The prime minister said that he addressed the Prosecutor General's Office with a request to start pretrial investigations into the Conservatives' allegations. But after the Prosecutor General's Office refused, Brazauskas said he would go to court.

"I don't see any other way out. Should I allow my name to be spattered after so many years of honest work for Lithuania? As a citizen, I will defend myself," he said.

Kubilius, also a former prime minister, said that he had nothing to fear. "This will be a new development in the evolution of democracy in our country and, I think, in Europe, when the ruling majority sues the opposition leaders in court. That does not scare us and will not stop us," he said.

The blow to Brazauskas is the most painful of his career, and could cause serious damage to the Social Democrats in the upcoming local elections. Political experts say that the Nov. 8 vote in Parliament was evidence that Brazauskas no longer carries the same authority he once did.

"Brazauskas is no longer the same in the eyes of public. He is nervous and irritable and raises his voice without grounds. When Brazauskas was Brazauskas-like, nobody doubted his authority or tranquillity. There was no need to strain ones vocal chords," commented political analyst Virgis Valentinavicius in Panorama.

"No doubt, Brazauskas has given a lot to Lithuania. However, raising one's merits over some parliamentary commission meant to investigate his wife's hotel is a mistake predicting the end of a career," he said.

Since there is practically no hope to investigate the business' transparency, the prime minister announced that his wife, Kristina Brazauskiene, would order an independent audit to probe the privatization of her hotel, the Crowne Plaza Vilnius.

Brazauskiene and her son Ernestas now jointly control all shares of the formerly state-owned hotel.