VILNIUS - The long-awaited climax to Lithuania's four-month-old presidential corruption drama will begin with the opening of final hearings on March 8, Parliamentary Chairman Arturas Paulauskas told reporters this week.
The hearings, during which lawmakers will be presented with the copious evidence collected by two previous investigative commissions against President Rolandas Paksas, will precede a final vote on the chief executive's fate.
Paulauskas added that the Seimas (Lithuania's parliament) would approve the rules by which the hearings would be conducted by March 5.
In giving the green light for hearings, the Seimas board bypassed an expected decision from the Constitutional Court on whether or not Paksas violated the constitution.
Constitutional Court Chief Justice Egidijus Kuris officially received the over 200,000 pages of documents compiled during Seimas inquests only on March 1.
Equally controversial was Paulauskas' decision to request that Vytautas Greicius, chairman of the Lithuanian Supreme Court, act as judge during the impeachment hearings.
Greicius, who accepted the invitation on March 1, had stated earlier that the law on collection of intelligence materials made bugging Paksas' personal telephone conversations illegal and ordered that such recordings be destroyed.
The justice dismissed worries that his earlier comments might influence the execution of his duties as judge during impeachment proceedings.
"The presiding judge has no right to weigh evidence-that will be done only by Seimas members," Greicius told reporters.
The judge further predicted that the hearings would last around one month, saying that they would end in late March or early April.
Greicius' colleague on the Supreme Court, Romualdas Urbaitis, was invited to observe the hearings as well and would assume Greicius' position if the court chairman were unable to preside over the entire process.
Furthermore, parliamentary leaders dealt a blow to Paksas counteroffensive plans when they ruled that the president's request for impeachment proceedings against Chairman Paulauskas was not provided for under the constitution.
Paksas' political assault against Paulauskas centered on allegations that the parliamentary chairman had illegally shared classified information when the scandal first broke late last October. However, parliamentary lawyers ruled that the only way to remove the speaker was through a no-confidence vote.
Paksas, who was on vacation in Palanga on March 2 when the news of the decision was made public, had yet to announce if he would attempt to have Paulauskas removed from his duties as a member of the Seimas, which is allowed under the constitution.
Paksas is accused of six separate offenses involving violating the constitution and his oath of office. A qualified majority vote of 85 parliamentarians in the 141-seat Seimas would remove him from office, in which case Paulauskas would temporarily become president until new elections are held.