VILNIUS - Viktor Uspaskich, Lithuania's former economy minister who is wanted by police on suspicions of financial impropriety, has registered as a Labor Party candidate in the Feb. 25 municipal elections. However, the Labor Party founder will not be protected by the immunity all other candidates enjoy during the election campaign, as the Chief Election Commission 's upon posecutors' request 's decided to strip Uspaskich of immunity last week.
The Jan. 26 decision was supported by 10 members of the commission with three votes against.
Uspaskich, a Russian-born businessman, is registered to run in Kedainiai, where he resided before moving to Moscow and where most of his companies are established.
The Kedainiai local election commission registered Uspaskich on Jan. 25, with seven members of the commission voting for the registration and four against.
The commission voted on Uspaskich's registration only after it received a confirmation that Uspaskich is, indeed, a Lithuanian citizen and had declared residency in Kedainiai.
Doubts related to Uspaskich's current citizenship were spurred a few months ago, when the media reported that he had asked for asylum in Russia.
Uspaskich, who brought his newly created Labor Party to victory in the 2004 parliamentary elections, suddenly left for Russia in May 2006, after Lithuanian police searched the headquarters of the Labor Party.
Lithuanian police in August issued an international arrest warrant for Uspaskich, saying he is suspected of fraudulently managing his party's finances and of submitting misleading information to tax and election officials.
But Chairman of the Central Election Commission Zenonas Vaigauskas said that this should not prevent Uspaskich from participating in municipal elections.
"Lithuanian laws do not foresee suspicions as an obstacle to run in elections," Vaigauskas told The Baltic Times.
"Of course, the decision to register Uspaskich may be appealed, and if it happens, we shall consider it. But today he is a candidate," Vaigauskas added.
The decision immediately provoked negative reaction from politicians, including several of Uspaskich's colleagues.
Viktoras Muntianas, speaker of Parliament and Uspaskich's former deputy in the Labor Party, said that registration of the candidate, who is wanted by police and has been residing outside Lithuania for more than eight months, contradicts the constitution.
"The local election commission did what it was obliged to do by the law but legal actions are not always just actions," Muntianas told journalists on Jan. 25.
He also said that his Civic Democracy Party, established mainly by those who split from Uspaskich's Labor Party, will consider whether to appeal the decision to register Uspaskich.
"I am convinced that the decision does not meet the requirements of the constitution, which provide that only residents of the particular municipality may run in this municipality," Muntianas said.
He also stressed he does not doubt that Uspaskich plans to come back to Lithuania.
"I never doubted it, it will happen and preparations are going on," Muntianas said.
Returning to Lithuania may be dangerous for Uspaskich. When handing their request to strip Uspaskich of immunity to the Chief Election Commission last week, prosecutors for the first time revealed the charges against him.
As it turns out, the Labor Party is suspected of concealing some 8 million litas (2.3 million euros) in income and not declaring some 7 million litas of expenditures, prosecutors said in a letter to the commission.
They also claim that Uspaskich and the treasurer of the Labor Party deliberately included false figures on the party's income, property and the use of it in the financial report.