Lietuva in brief - 2006-10-18

  • 2006-10-18
The Supreme Administrative Court ruled that Russian banker Igor Babenko had the right to asylum in Lithuania due to his relations with Yukos. Moscow had requested that Babenko be extradited on charges of fraud. Babenko was arrested in July, 2005 at Russia's request and has since been imprisoned. A Lithuanian court later handed him to Russia on Moscow's request. Extradition procedures were frozen after Babenko asked for asylum. Immigration authorities granted him temporary asylum but prosecutors appealed the decision. The Supreme Administrative Court's ruling cannot be appealed.

Prosecutors will continue to investigate the mysterious death of security officer Vytautas Pociunas, who fell out of a hotel window in Brest, Belarus on Aug. 23. Belarus authorities concluded that Pociunas' death was an accident on Oct. 6, but Lithuanian investigators have not ruled out the possibility of murder. In late August, a special parliamentary commission was established to investigate the diplomat's departure to Belarus and the circumstances of his death.

Petras Austrevicius, Lithuania's former chief EU negotiator and current chairman of the Liberal Movement party, plans to challenge Vilnius Mayor Arturas Zuokas, head of the Liberal Center Party, for his post. Austrevicius topped the Liberal Movement's list in municipal elections and said he was seriously considering the possibility of exchanging his seat in Parliament for the post of Vilnius mayor. Austrevicius joined the Liberal Center Party after the 2004 presidential elections. He later broke away and established his own party.

European Parliament member Vytautas Landsbergis distributed a letter to his colleagues suggesting that the head of Italy's government, Romano Prodi, may be linked to the KGB. Landsbergis, the architect of Lithuania's independence, also said that Prodi may be related to Viktor Uspaskich, Lithuania's former economy minister who was charged with mismanaging Labor Party finances. Uspaskich formerly chaired the party. In his letter, Landsbergis referenced reports by the Italian media that Prodi had a company in Moscow, which, according to him, was a joint enterprise with the Moscow based Plekhanov institute, known as "the KGB's economic branch." Landsbergis also noted that the international European Democratic Party, which was founded by Prody, not only included the Labor Party, but also appointed the Russian-born politician as vice-president.

Recent reports suggest that only 21 percent of Lithuania's 905 million litas (262 million euros) of EU Structural Funds have been spent as of Oct., 2006. Almost 4.2 billion litas were granted to the government for 2004-2006, the daily newspaper Lietuvos Rytas reported. Parliament's European affairs committee decided to set up a task force to speed up the usage of EU funds. According to the daily, the slowest movement of funds was in the Social Security and Labor Ministry, where 7 percent of the allocated money was put to use. The Fisheries Department, under the Ministry of Agriculture, utilized the highest percentage of funds, putting 43 percent into action. Rules for usage of EU assistance dictate that funds must be spent within two years after signing a contract.