VILNIUS - Lithuanian prosecutors decided last week to begin extradition procedures against Labor Party founder Viktor Uspaskich based on evidence that the millionaire politician, who is currently in Russia, may be guilty of fraud, tax violations and influence peddling.
The Interior Ministry reported on Sept. 4 that Uspaskich's name has been entered into the Interpol database.
The news came just days after Uspaskich told the Baltic News Service in a phone interview that he never had Russian citizenship, which surprised many. If true, this would mean that, by virtue of his Lithuanian citizenship, Russian authorities would be all but obliged to extradite Uspaskich.
Lithuanian law enforcement authorities are checking whether the Labor Party leader has dual Lithuanian-Russian citizenship, which is illegal under Lithuanian law.
Prime Minister Gediminas Kirkilas said on Sept. 5 that he hoped Russia would extradite Uspaskich. "If Russia's law enforcement agencies cooperate, it will not be difficult to do that," Kirkilas said in an interview to public radio.
For his part, Uspaskich has said repeatedly that he does not trust Lithuania's law enforcement structures, and that he would stay put in Russia. "I have reason to believe that I would not be able to defend myself in Lithuania, but could possibly do so with international assistance," Uspaskich told the Baltic News Service on Sept. 1.
"I live in Russia, in Moscow, the address is known. I can invite all journalists to Moscow to present objective information. Nobody is searching for me yet," Uspaskich said. The former economy minister also denied ever having Russian citizenship.
"I have never had [Russian] citizenship," he said.
A Lithuanian paper claimed that Uspaskich, after receiving Lithuanian citizenship many years ago, concealed the fact that he once had Russian citizenship. If this were indeed the case, granting Lithuanian citizenship would be illegal and his passport would be confiscated.
Interior Minister Raimondas Sukys has ordered the migration department to verify the information.
Asked whether he intended to ask for political asylum in Russia or any other country, Uspaskich replied, "I will think about asking for political asylum only when they interfere with my life. Maybe even not for political asylum, but for international legal assistance. We will discuss that with the lawyers."
The businessman restated that an investigation into the Labor Party's financial activities conducted in Lithuania was "politicized."
In the wake of scandals involving his financial activities, Uspaskich was forced to resign as economy minister last year. He later gave up his MP mandate and stepped down as party leader. But the Labor Party remains the largest faction in Parliament, though it recently dropped out of the ruling coalition.