Paksas defies commission, irks court

  • 2004-01-08
  • By TBT staff
VILNIUS - Lithuanian President Rolandas Paksas aggravated his already tenuous position this week by refusing to appear before the parliamentary impeachment commission on Jan. 5, ironically the first anniversary of his stunning defeat of President Valdas Adamkus, and by criticizing the country's Constitutional Court for making decisions based on "politics rather than the law."

Both acts drew sharp responses from the two other branches of power, further exacerbating the Paksas presidency's faltering reputation.
The 12-member commission, consisting of six parliamentarians and six lawyers, had summoned the president as part of its hearing to determine whether the president is guilty of violating his oath of office and the constitution.
"The president informed the commission that he is not able to participate in the meeting as, despite his repeated request to be provided with all the documents related to accusations against him, these documents were not given to the president," his spokeswoman Jurate Overlingiene told Agence France Presse.
"Not having seen all the documents, the president is not able to give answers and explanations related to the accusations against him. But he is ready to cooperate with the commission," Overling-iene added.
Commission panelists slammed the no-show, saying that the president was obligated to give explanations to the commission and that he had sufficient representation - six lawyers - to get acquainted with the case material.
Some panelists said the president's failure to show up when summoned also raised questions about the lawyers themselves.
The commission on Jan. 5 received the presidential decree authorizing the group of six lawyers to defend Paksas, though it has yet to be provided with copies of the contractual agreements.
Julius Sabatauskas, deputy chairman of the commission, said, "the president is a public person. Failure to present the [contractual] agreements [with the lawyers] is a violation of the law."
He noted that "if we are not aware of the extent of the authorization, a question arises whether they [the lawyers] are able to defend the president."
Paksas has reportedly hired his lawyers as a private individual, leading critics to say he is once again "vulnerable" since any private defense of a public figure amounts to a conflict of interest.
The commission was scheduled to begin considering the six accusations against Paksas on Jan. 7. It is expected than more than 40 people will give testimony during the two to three week process.
Sabatauskas told the Baltic News Service that the commission would probably begin by reviewing the accusation involving the president's conflict of interest vis-à-vis his main financial backer, Yuri Borisov (see story on Page 1).
The president is also accused of trying to influence the activities of private business interests, of seeking to influence their property relations, of revealing state secrets and of trying to replace top law enforcement officials on behalf of criminal structures.
The commission is scheduled to report on its findings to Parliament by Feb. 13, after which there will presumably be a vote on whether to remove Paksas from the presidency.
Eighty-five votes in the 141-seat legislature will be necessary to oust the president, in accordance with the constitution.
In December several parliamentarians leading the impeachment effort managed to gather 87 signatures in support of launching impeachment proceedings. Paksas however refused to be swayed by the overwhelming support of a trial against him and stressed that he would not resign and that he would fight until the end.
Meanwhile the judiciary also had a few harsh words for the president as well.
In a statement released Jan. 5, the Constitutional Court reminded Paksas that state officials were "obliged to respect and unconditionally execute the rulings of the court."
Judges were irked by Paksas' criticism of the court, which on Dec. 30 stripped Borisov of his citizenship on the basis that the president decree, signed by Paksas back in April, was illegal.
"The mentioned rebukes of the president...whose decree was found to be against the constitution, to the Constitutional Court was an evident attempt to plant doubts about the Constitutional Court and the constitutional justice in general, to arouse mistrust in the Constitutional Court's judgments, question their power and the obligation to obey them," the statement read.
"Such statements of the president...can be also treated as an attempt to involve the Constitutional Court in a political polemic, which is in principle extraneous to it," the statement continued.