VILNIUS - Former economy minister Viktor Uspaskich, the recent object of an international arrest warrant, is now planning to run in the upcoming municipal elections.
"Yes, I hope to run in the elections [on Feb. 27]. I have already filled out a request for the election commission," Uspaskich told The Baltic Times in a telephone interview.
In 2004, the Russian-born businessman stormed to the forefront of Lithuanian politics by leading his then newly-created Labor Party to election success. Uspaskich then became economy minister, but was forced to resign in the summer of 2005, following a scandal over his allegedly false college diploma.
But the intrigue doesn't stop there: In May 2006, the Labor Party leader fled to Russia after his party was accused of financial misdealings and "black-book accounting."
A few months later, a Lithuanian court issued an international arrest warrant for Uspaskich, saying he was suspected of fraudulently managing party finances and of submitting misleading information to tax and election officials.
Uspaskich continues to deny the allegations, and says he is ready to provide all evidence defending him, but not in Lithuania.
"I am ready to meet with prosecutors and answer all their questions - but not in Vilnius, where they want to throw me into jail. If prosecutors want to get answers from me, they must come to Moscow," Uspaskich said.
However, the former economy minister did not rule out the possibility of returning to Lithuania for the municipal elections.
"It may be that I come back," Uspaskich said.
Zenonas Vaigauskas, head of Lithuania's Central Elections Commission, believes Uspaskich should return to Lithuania if he genuinely wants to run in the elections.
"I don't know if the district commission has received Uspaskich's documents. But if they do, I think they may have some questions, like whether the request was really filled by Uspaskich himself or why he did not give evidence to prosecutors," Vaigauskas said. "And it seems that the only way to answer these - and maybe some other questions 's is for Uspaskich to appear in front of the commission."
But Uspaskich said that a request to appear before Lithuanian prosecutors in person is illegal.
"The laws do not provide for the obligatory appearance of candidates. Such a demand would mean that the election commission applies double standards. It is strange, because this should help the candidates, and not intimidate them. But let's wait and see," Uspaskich told The Baltic Times.
However, there is not much time left to wait. The commission only has until Jan. 22 to present the list of candidates, and the final decision must be made by Jan. 25.