The European Parliament has stripped Lithuanian MEP Viktor Uspaskikh of his legal immunity, meaning that he will now have to continue with his appeal against a Lithuanian court decision to convict him to four years in prison. At the European Parliament Viktor Uspaskikh is a member of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE). Uspaskikh, the founder of the Labour Party, was found guilty by a Lithuanian court of fraud and fraudulent book-keeping in 2013. He gained legal immunity upon becoming a member of the European Parliament in June of last year.
Yesterday, prior to the decision, Uspaskikh announced he was going on hunger strike in protest.
"During a sitting of the political group, Uspaskikh announced that he was going on a hunger strike due to injustice and paltering with his case," MEP Petras Austrevicius said in a telephone interview to Lithuania's national television station LRT.
According to him, MEP Uspaskikh had a sign on his chest about the hunger strike. The MEP was also using a wheelchair as, according to Austrevicius, he had broken or strained his leg. Uspaskikh also issued a letter to fellow MEPs claiming that his human rights were being violated in Lithuania and urging them to vote against the removal of legal immunity.
However, a fellow Lithuanian Member of the European Parliament, Antanas Guoga, has told Uspaskikh to trust the country's courts.
Guoga said he trusted the Lithuanian law enforcement and was voting for the issue to end and for the ruling of Lithuanian courts to be recognised because it was time to move forward.
"I have told Viktor that it is not too bad to be imprisoned. If you take the path into politics and something happens and the court finds you guilty, then you might have to spend some time in prison and face the penalty. I do not think there is any other way. If you participate in elections in that country, it means you trust it. He decided to enter elections in Lithuania, which means he trusts Lithuania ... and should acknowledge decisions made by Lithuanian courts," Guoga told ELTA news agency on the phone from Brussels.
Guoga congratulated Uspaskikh and his team for managing to successfully delay the revocation of legal immunity for ten months. Guoga said that his party colleague Petras Austrevicius had also voted in favour of lifting Uspaskikh's legal immunity. However he was unaware of how other Lithuanian MEPs had voted. He was also surprised that some MEPs had proposed to return the issue to the Legal Affairs Committee.
Another Lithuanian MEP, Gabrielius Landsbergis, also spoke of the decision with approval. According to him, justice had triumphed at last. Landsbergis said that Uspaskikh had made a major effort to preserve his immunity. Landsbergis urged his colleagues not to be affected by such spectacles, and afterwards was pleased that they remained principled and consistent. He said the EP must not be a haven for those seeking to hide from justice.