- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 6, 2004

VILNIUS, Lithuania — Lawmakers removed Lithuania’s president from office yesterday in a narrowly approved vote that found he had abused his office through links to a Russian organized-crime figure.

In three separate, secret ballots, the 141-seat Seima, or parliament, reached the 85 votes needed to oust President Rolandas Paksas on each of the charges, although only 116 members voted each time.

Mr. Paksas, 47, won’t face another hearing or trial.

Parliament Speaker Arturas Paulauskas becomes the acting president and new elections must be held in 60 days.

While the president isn’t involved in the day-to-day running of the country — a task left to the prime minister — the head of state does serve as a leading foreign envoy. In Lithuania’s parliamentary system, the president also plays an important role in the formation of governments.

The scandal emerged in October after a government report linked Mr. Paksas to businessman Yuri Borisov, who police assert has ties to Russian organized-crime figures. Parliament launched proceedings weeks later to remove Mr. Paksas from office.

According to the balloting commission, the first charge — that Mr. Paksas illegally arranged citizenship for Mr. Borisov — was approved by a vote of 86-17; the second — that Mr. Paksas divulged state secrets — passed 86-18; the third — that he used his office for financial gain — passed 89-14.

Many lawmakers said they were determined to remove Mr. Paksas before this Western-oriented country of 3.5 million enters the European Union on May 1, arguing that his presidency threatened to ruin the Baltic state’s reputation. Lithuania joined the NATO alliance last week.

Just minutes before the secret ballot, Mr. Paksas again protested his innocence before the legislators, who essentially acted as a jury while a judge presided.

“This is all the system’s revenge against me,” said a calm but determined-looking Mr. Paksas. “This is a vendetta for my efforts to fight corruption in this country.”

As the vote took place, some 600 Paksas supporters gathered outside the building with 200 riot police nearby. There were no immediate reports of violence.

Had Mr. Paksas resigned, he would have kept privileges accorded to ex-presidents, including a state-funded residence, pension and title of president for life. But he steadfastly refused all calls to resign. Because of the lawmakers’ vote, he lost all his benefits.

After the vote, the red-and-white flag of the Lithuanian president was lowered and taken away at the presidential headquarters in the capital, Vilnius. Presidential plates on his black BMW limousine were removed immediately.

The one-time stunt pilot was seen as the golden boy of Lithuanian politics. As Vilnius mayor in the mid-1990s, he was credited with reviving the capital’s old quarter after 50 years of neglect during Soviet rule, which ended in 1991.

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