What did Paksas actually do wrong?

  • 2004-03-18
  • By Steven Paulikas
VILNIUS - Even though the impeachment process, now in its fifth month, has finally reached the floor of Parliament, in the media frenzy surrounding the scandal details of the six accusations against President Rolandas Paksas have been largely overlooked.

And while Paksas has endured a multitude of incriminations since last November, his ultimate fate will depend upon how members of the Seimas (Lithuania's parliament) cast their votes based solely on six accusations of violating oath of office and the constitutions, all contained in the final report of the special investigative commission that was issued last month.
The commission, composed of MPs and judges, upheld an earlier parliamentary commission's conclusion that Paksas should stand accountable for all six charges: creating a threat to national security, divulging state secrets, interfering in privatizations of state assets, mixing public and private interests, discrediting the authority of his office and connivance in relation to abuse among his advisers.
If 85 of the Seimas' 137 current members vote "yes" on any one of the counts, Paksas will lose his office.
As things stand now, in spite of the fact that the commission did not accept all of the evidence forwarded to it by the earlier parliamentary working group, its findings do not bode well for the president.
In the 103-page document, which will serve as the basis for the impeachment trial, commission members argue that Paksas' actions "are not compatible with overseeing the functioning of state institutions and create conditions that make him unable to execute the duties of president of the republic."
Broadly speaking, the commission's evidence against the president can be broken into two separate areas: Paksas' ties to Yuri Borisov, his largest campaign supporter (recently stripped of the Lithuanian citizenship granted by presidential decree), and immoral interference by his advisers in public tenders for state-held companies.

Cloak and copter
The account of Paksas' stormy relations with his greatest benefactor, which is contained in the report, reads like a best-selling conspiracy novel.
Based on telephone conversations recorded by the State Security Department over the course of several months and documents recovered from Borisov's personal computer, the commission found that Paksas had indeed promised Borisov a place in his administration in exchange for financial support.
While Paksas and Borisov, both accomplished stunt pilots, had long maintained personal contact, their relationship became controversial when Borisov solicited Almax, a Russian political consulting firm, to assist Paksas in winning the presidential elections.
Almax representatives Ana Zatonskaya, who was invited to Paksas' inaugural ceremony but is now listed as a persona non grata in Lithuania, and Anatoly Potnin used their extensive training in sociology and psychology to create pro-Paksas television advertising financed by Borisov, who was then a Russian citizen.
In return for this help and the over 1 million litas (350,000 euros) he donated to the Paksas camp, Borisov in return expected a wide swathe of perks, ranging from kickbacks for his helicopter firm to regular tennis dates with the president.
Indeed, according to testimony collected by the prosecutor general, an office for Borisov had already been prepared in the Presidential Palace shortly after Paksas' inauguration.
In the opinion of the commission, the evidence demonstrates that Paksas' fear of public backlash against Borisov and internal pressure from advisers such as Dalia Kutraite-Giedraitiene caused him eventually to avoid Borisov, who responded by threatening to leak compromising information about the president and Kutraite-Giedraitiene to the press.
Yet according to testimony by State Security Department Director Mecys Laurinkus, on March 17, 2003, the very same day that Paksas held a meeting with Borisov to keep the latter from following through with his threats, presidential adviser Remigijus Acas demanded that Laurinkus come to the Presidential Palace at the unusual hour of 8 p.m., telling the national security chief that Borisov "must be arrested at once."

Insider deals
The trajectory of Borisov's relations with Paksas coincided with another set of shady circumstances related to last summer's privatizations of Lithuania's state-held alcohol distilleries.
Commission findings hold that, while the Presidential Palace showed little interest in the details of most privatizations, a classified file given to Paksas on May 2, 2003, pertaining to the public tender of Stumbras, the largest of the four distilleries up for sale, had received special attention, as proven by the yellow highlighter marks made on particular pages by Acas.
On the following day after a crucial May 22 meeting with Paksas and Acas, Renata Smailyte, a parliamentary aide accused of abusing her position to represent potentially criminal elements to government officials, informed Valdas Sutkus, a manager at the Lithuanian conglomerate MG Baltic, of the details in the file.
MG Baltic was the eventual winner of the public tender offer.
Contrary to claims by the Paksas camp that the events listed in the report do not summarily prove any breach of office or constitution by the president, legal experts agree with the commission's conclusions.
"There is absolutely enough information to warrant impeachment proceedings," said Egidijus Sileikis, head of the law faculty at Vilnius University.
As for the possible outcome of the process based on this evidence, as Sileikis pointed out, impeachment is not merely a legal process.
"When the Constitutional Court ruled that Borisov was given citizenship illegally, it did so as a legal institution. But impeachment is decided by the Seimas, whose members are politicians," he said.
Ironically, in the midst of the testimony given to the commission by hundreds of witnesses, the one conspicuous voice missing from the report - and thus unavailable to parliamentarians for their evaluation of the impeachment claims - is that of the president himself.
Following repeated requests to defend himself before the commission, Paksas' legal team submitted a short last-minute statement on behalf of the head of state, who is perhaps the only individual who knows the full truth about the events over the past year and who could therefore be the savior of his own fate.