Lithuanian PM insists coalition partners' jailing won't hurt govt

By bne IntelliNews July 15, 2013

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Lithuanian Prime Minister Algirdas Butkevicius insisted on July 12 that his government will remain unaffected, despite the imposition of prison sentences on two leaders of the Labour Party - the main coalition partner of the PM's Social Democrats - for fraud.

The Vilnius district court sentenced Labour Party leader Viktor Uspaskich to four years in prison, reports Baltic News Service. Vitalija Vonzutaite - a member of Lithuania's budget and finance committee - received a three-year sentence, while a third defendant, Vytautas Gapsys - the first deputy speaker - was hit with a LTL35,700 (€10,270) fine.

The trio was found guilty of manipulating Labour Party books. During the 2004 parliamentary elections, the party - which won the vote - spent LTL826,000 more than it declared. The charges also included failure to report more than LTL24m in income and LTL23m in spending between 2004 and 2006, reports AP.

Labour brings 29 of the parliament's 141 seats to the four-party left-leaning coalition headed by Butkevicius' Social Democrats. However, the PM insisted to LRT Radijas that the ruling won't affect government operations, according to Bloomberg. The PM can point to Uspaskich's uncanny ability to bounce back from setbacks, as well as his winning last year a constitutional fight over the inclusion of Labour in the government that was brought due to the impending court case.

Uspaskich, who in 2006 was forced to resign as economy minister after becoming mired in a potential conflict-of-interest case, claimed to be the victim of a political vendetta and has pledged to appeal the verdict. The Russian-born gherkin magnate and political leader is no stranger to controversy, and was at the centre of the drawn-out constitutional storm that hit Vilnius in the wake of the parliamentary election late last year.

Following the October vote, President Dalia Grybauskaite refused to accept Butkevicius' plan to form a cabinet that included Labour, insisting that a party facing fraud charges has no business entering government. That saw weeks of standoff, with the PM designate holding his ground against a head of state that had worked closely with his centre-right predecessor Andrius Kubilius.

Eventually, the president - who also objected to accusations of vote buying against Labour - was forced to back down to allow Butkevicius to lead his government into office in December. However, she has remained notably critical of the administration for a head of state, particularly over the pace of action on energy diversification. The Labour Party trio was stripped of immunity earlier this year to allow the trial to proceed.

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