OFF THE HOOK? Prominent Lithuanian businessman and politician Viktor Uspaskich was given immunity in an ongoing corruption case after he was elected into the next parliament in mid-November. Now the Prosecutor General's Office wants lawmakers to revoke his immunity so he can continue to stand trial.
VILNIUS - The Prosecutor General's Office (PGO) has asked Parliament to remove legal immunity for three newly sworn in parliamentarians who were sitting trial at the time of the election.
Lithuanian Prosecutor General Algimantas Valantinas asked the Seimas (Lithuanian parliament) to strip three newly elected MPs 's Viktor Uspaskich, Vytautas Gapsys and Rokas Zilinskas 's of legal protection, which is granted to all parliamentarians during their term.
Gapsys told The Baltic Times that this is a politically motivated campaign against him and his colleagues.
"We should look at how this case was started. It was started by the State Homeland Security forces and then given to the PGO. Why was this? I think that it is politically motivated," said the lawmaker, who is accused of fraudulent bookkeeping and tax evasion.
"Immunity is not a question of criminal law 's this is constitutional law and it is there to make sure that we can do our job in the Seimas without any restrictions. This is an oppression of the parliament and the parliament must decide if it is right," he said.
The PGO is asking for restrictions to be placed on the accused to aid the investigation, in addition to the parliamentarians losing their immunity.
The requested restrictions include Gapsys and Uspaskich needing permission to exit Lithuania and restricting their communication together, which could affect the case.
"I am asking why we need restrictions 's this for me is a very interesting case," he said.
Gapsys is demanding protection from the authorities until the commissions compiled to assess the cases can determine whether or not the case amounts to political persecution.
"If the commissions find that this isn't a politically motivated case, then they have the right to remove the immunity, but until that time when they have found everything to have been done correctly, they shouldn't waive our immunity."
When contacted by The Baltic Times, Zilinskas refused to comment on the matter. Uspaskich was also unavailable for comment.
When asked by TBT how the alleged criminals got into the Seimas and were given immunity, Aurelija Juodyte, the PGO press representative, said "you should address this question to every member of society who decided to elect them."
Gapsys responded to the same question saying that he can't wait for the courts to finish proceedings.
"I didn't go into politics wondering when it would be ethical. These cases take months and in this case, this case is already two and a half years old. Should I wait years to start my political career? Should I wait until I am 65?" Gapsys asked.
Juodyte said the decision to strip or not to strip immunity is in the hands of the Seimas and that the cases against the trio rest on their decision.
"The PGO has to drop the case if the immunity is not lifted. Theoretically it could be heard after four years, but in practice this has not happened. Saulius Versackas, the prosecutor, said he thinks he should follow up the case in four years, but said it is too early to comment 's that is his personal opinion," she said.
Parliament set up three committees to consider the request to bring criminal charges against them, arrest them or restrict their freedom in any other way.
Vidmantas Ziemelis, who heads the commission to advise the Seimas, told TBT they would need more time to decide the fate of their colleagues. When TBT went to press, they had not given their recommendations to the Seimas.
Once the recommendations have been formulated, the Seimas will review and vote on the findings.
The bid to satisfy the prosecutor general's request requires support of at least half of Lithuania's 141 parliamentarians.
Should the Seimas decide to keep the legal immunity of the parliamentarians, legal procedures against them would be terminated, said Valantinas.
Under the Lithuanian constitution, only the Seimas can remove legal immunity of parliamentarians.
Former journalist Zilinskas is charged with a violation of public order, insulting and resisting police officers. He faces up to three years in prisons for the charges.
Zilinskas' former employer LNK, a television station, publicly sacked him after being caught drunk driving.
Uspaskich, and Gapsys are on trial for fraudulent bookkeeping during the recent election, with the party suspected of failing to include over 24 million litas (6.96 million euros) in income and 23 million litas in expenditures in their books.
They are also accused of not paying over 4 million litas in taxes. They face four years in jail each.
The three parliamentarians obtained legal immunity from their criminal cases after getting sworn in as members of the 2008-2012 Seimas on Nov. 17.