The Lithuanian authorities have asked the European Parliament to waive the parliamentary immunity of Victor Uspaskich MEP, a millionaire businessman and a former economy minister, EurActiv has learned.
Sources from the European Parliament confirmed to EurActiv that Uspaskich is trying to fight back his government’s request for extradition.
The Lithuanian MEP has recently written to Jerzy Buzek, president of the European Parliament and to Guy Verhofstadt, leader of the liberal group ALDE to which his party belongs, as well as to the president of the legal affairs committee Klaus-Heiner Lehne MEP, claiming he was a victim of political persecution.
His political party Darbo (Labour), which he founded in 2003, is suspected of income tax violations. He claims he is not responsible of any wrongdoing as he had entrusted the party's bookkeeping to a collaborator.
Uspaskich described his case to "a coordinated attack by the state" which is seeking the "destruction" of a public figure. He compared his case to that of Mikhail Khodorkovski, the former CEO of Yukos who was sentenced to eight years of prison for tax evasion in Russia.
In spite of his criticism ahainst the Khodorkovski case, Uspaskich, who is of Russian origin, has recently spent years in his native country, seeking shelter from the Lithuanian prosecution.
The millionaire turned MEP is a popular figure in Lithuania. In 2004, he won the parliamentary elections in his country and became economy minister there. His party was also the most successful in the 2004 European elections, obtaining five seats out of 13 allocated to Lithuania.
After a series of scandals, Uspaskich was forced to resign as minister, left the parliament and fled to Russia. Lithuanian authorities have since then been trying to obtain his extradition.
In the 2009 EU elections, Uspaskich was the only candidate from his Darbo party to be elected as MEP. Although Uspaskich is known to be a very rich man, his declaration of financial interests, submitted to the European Parliament and published on the institution's website, is in fact empty.
A source from the ALDE group told EurActiv that Uspaskich was not hiding and had attended the Parliament's plenary session in July, but it was not possible to obtain a comment from him on the spot.
Requests by national governments that MEPs be stripped of their immunity in order to face justice are not uncommon. It usually takes about five months for the EU institution to make a decision, the Parliament's legal services told EurActiv.