VILNIUS - The State Security Department raided Labor Party headquarters on suspicions that the party had received donations from Russian special services and bribes in exchange for support in procuring EU funds. Prosecutors are also taking part in the investigation, which has triggered a new wave of instability in the minority ruling coalition 's and some say the worst crisis yet. Members of the Labor Party, which is Lithuania's most popular party, are being questioned by investigators.
Launched three years ago, the investigation has led prosecutors to the Labor Party's books. Deputy Prosecutor General Gintaras Jasaitis said the search was aimed at seizing accounting documents. Prosecutors say that a 2003 probe into Silu Paukstynas' (Silai Poultry Farm's) activities produced data about possible violations in the book-keeping of other companies and organizations. Officials of the national administrator of EU assistance, the National Paying Agency, support the data.
"We are investigating possible links between these violations and book-keeping at the Labor Party's office," Jasaitis told a news conference on May 19.
Informal reports suggest that security officials are investigating the activities of Russian businessmen Jakov Goldovski, Dmitry Buriak and Mikhail Chiorn. The LNK news station said the three businessmen recently visited Prime Minister Algirdas Brazauskas.
Earlier, Buriak attempted to bring a virtually unknown Austria-registered company, Baltic Holding, which was interested in the possibility of purchasing Mazeikiu Nafta, to Lithuania, while Goldovski is linked with the Kremlin-operated Gazprom and has headed one of its companies.
Top-ranking officials of the Prosecutor General's Office said the three businessmen had been figures in several other cases.
Interior Minister Gintaras Furmanavicius, a Labor Party member, told LNK he did not know the three Russians. During a press conference on May 22, Labor Party officials said the raid was nothing more than "political provocation." But the news hit scandal-fatigued Lithuania like a bomb, with some even referring to it as the coalition's worst crisis to date. Even Prime Minister Algirdas Brazauskas seemed unsure of the coalition's potential to continue. "So far, I have nothing to say. I have neither the powers, nor the right to speak on behalf of three or four parties," Brazauskas told national radio on May 23. "This is the first time we've had such a situation."
Yet one day earlier, coalition partners 's the Social Democrats, the Labor Party, the National Farmers Union 's expressed a willingness to continue working. "We arrived at a unanimous opinion that we, as a coalition, will continue our work," Brazauskas said. The incriminations have fomented a rift in the coalition, as more politicians regard the Labor Party, which just lost seven MPs, as a liability. Defense Minister Gediminas Kirkilas, a Social Democrat, said the Labor Party should suspend leader Viktor Uspaskich's powers until the investigation is closed. "There could also be another way out," Kirkilas said. "We should stop advising our colleagues as to what they should do in such cases. There has to be a denial, as required by basic political logic."
Loreta Grauziniene, a senior Laborite, said the party neither planed to replace Uspaskich nor suspend his powers, as such an option is not envisaged in the party's statute.
When asked about Uspaskich, Brazauskas skirted the issue. "If he [Uspaskich] is a problem, he is not my problem. He is a problem of those who are dealing with this matter. And I do not think that our political life, the activity of our coalition and of the government can be linked to a certain individual," Brazauskas said, adding that Kirkilas had offered his personal opinion.
In the meantime, President Valdas Adamkus expressed dismay at the insouciance of the coalition partners' decision to continue.
"I am stunned by the giddy attitude of members of the ruling coalition and their declaration as if nothing happened 's that our law enforcement authorities come to their headquarters high-handedly, and without any apparent reason, to collect the computers, all of the material that was there 's and it looks as if it has nothing to do with either the work of the government or the coalition partners," he told journalists on his way to Kiev on May 23. In the president's words, "This is a situation beyond comprehension of a rational mind."