VILNIUS - For the first time in his political career, Prime Minister Algirdas Brazuaskas was forced to testify in the Prosecutor's Office as part of a probe into his family's business deals. The interrogation took place at the Vilnius Prosecutor's Office on Dec. 12, and afterward Brazauskas told journalists he felt humiliated. "I've gone through many things in my life, but I certainly never thought I would have to explain myself to prosecutors after 50 years of work in Lithuania 's 15 in an independent state. I would have never thought," said the prime minister.
Brazauskas refused to comment on what the prosecutors asked him, though it is widely believed that the crux of the investigation centers around the privatization of a hotel, the Crown Plaza Hotel, currently owned by his wife.
"There were various questions. As you know, the Prosecutor's Office is the Prosecutor's Office. My business is to answer the questions, and I won't reveal anything. The Prosecutor's Office will disclose what it finds necessary," he said.
When asked if the questioning was unpleasant, Brazauskas only shrugged saying "nothing horrible."
But the prime minister said he regarded the prosecutor's investigation as a turning point in the scandal.
The Brazauskas family business scandal first erupted two months ago when the prime minister was accused of having bonds with the acquisition of Crown Plaza Hotel, owned by Kristine Brazauskiene. The privatization of this Soviet-era hotel, previously called the Draugyste, had been carried out under Brazauskas' presidency.
At the time, Brazauskas had reportedly undertaken efforts to ensure that his future wife would become chief executive of the hotel.
Over the past two months, the governmental chief has been dodging politicians eager to get to the bottom of this case. At one point, Brazauskas insisted that officials hand over the investigation to law enforcement institutions.
The Vilnius Prosecutor's Office launched a pretrial investigation on Nov. 18, after Parliament declined to form an ad hoc commission to investigate Brazauskas' family business. Before that, President Valdas Adamkus had also urged law enforcement institutions to look into the case.
Ramutis Jancevicius, head of Vilnius Prosecutor's Office, said the case's outlook would be clear before Christmas.
"When we started the pretrial investigation, I ordered prosecutors to form a conclusion before Dec. 22, whether there is enough evidence to indict anyone [or not]," Jancevicius was quoted as saying.
Prosecutors have already questioned a total of 19 witnesses, including former Prime Minister Adolfas Slezevicius, former Economy Minister Julius Veselka and the prime minister's spouse.
Former Privatization Commission Chief Eduardas Vilkas, who also testified to prosecutors, was also reluctant to comment. "I told prosecutors that the privatization has to be carried out in accordance with the law. It is unlikely that the law was violated when privatizing the hotel," he told journalists.
Veselka had previously divulged that Brazauskas, while occupying the president's office, phoned him to inquire if it "would be a pity" to privatize the Draugyste, as it would open the hotel up to crooks.
Veselka responded that "it was a pity" and removed the hotel from a list of objects to be privatized.
Brazauskas refused to comment on whether the prosecutors' conclusion would affect his decision to stay on as prime minister, saying only that he would speak about this after reading the prosecutors' final resolution.
The media had speculated that, based on comments by Social Democrats, Brazauskas was mulling his resignation after Parliament approved next year's budget. However, when the day arrived on Dec. 8, Brazauskas said he would not step down.
"But please don't hurry, don't guess, and 's I apologize 's don't spread rumors. Let the government work," he said.