Lithuanian president ousted over mob scandal

Members of parliament vote to impeach leader

new election pending

April 07, 2004|By Kim Murphy | Kim Murphy,LOS ANGELES TIMES

MOSCOW - Lithuanian President Rolandas Paksas was removed from office yesterday for his support of a businessman with alleged links to Russian organized crime, leaving the Baltic republic in political upheaval on the eve of its entry into the European Union.

In a close vote, members of parliament approved the impeachment of the 47-year-old former stunt pilot, who acknowledged "mistakes," but insisted he was a corruption-fighter and victim of "a system that ... is more powerful than you can imagine."

Parliament Chairman Arturas Paulauskas was appointed acting president pending new elections, which will probably be held in June, when Lithuanians also will select their first representatives to the European Parliament.

The vote appeared to mark the first time a European head of state has been removed by impeachment. But political leaders said the nation, which regained independence with the collapse of the Soviet Union, had successfully weathered a crucial trial of its democratic institutions.

"The impeachment procedure ended today the way it is supposed to end in any genuinely democratic country - the president has been removed from office after committing such grave offenses," former head of state Vytautas Landsbergis, now a conservative member of parliament, said in a telephone interview.

"The impeachment is a test, it is a great ordeal for Lithuania's democracy," Landsbergis said.

Paksas, who made two addresses to parliament Monday and yesterday as hundreds of his supporters chanted outside, denied any serious wrongdoing and blamed the impeachment on his battle against opposing political forces.

"I am convinced that this scandal would not have erupted if my advisers and I had not attempted to destroy the corrupt system," Paksas said.

Two of the three charges upon which the president was impeached involved his relationship with Russian businessman Yuri Borisov, who police assert has ties to Russian organized crime figures. Borisov contributed $400,000 to Paksas' election campaign last year, when he upset incumbent Valdas Adamkus.

The Constitutional Court concluded last week that Paksas "grossly violated" the constitution by granting Lithuanian citizenship to Borisov and warning him that he was under surveillance by state security services.

Under Lithuanian law, new presidential elections must be held within a little more than two months.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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