The guest of “Business & Politics” is the member of the European Parliament and the leader of the Labour Party Viktor USPASKICH.
“If voters show their confidence in me and entrust me with the mayor’s post, I will resign from the European Parliament,” you have made such a promise for a number of times. Your position changed after the municipal elections in Vilnius where the party under your leadership was ranked the fourth. What do you think of the results?
To be honest, I am satisfied with the results. The difference in the number of mandates between the first and the fourth places is not very significant: 12 and 8.
The Constitution and political decency require us to acknowledge that the political parties, which have gained more mandates in the elections, should be given the initiative to try for the mayor’s post. Eight members will represent our party in the council. I will also get involved in this work to the maximum possible degree, irrespective of my service at the European Parliament. I will meet with people and take care of their affairs. I believe that my job will not be in any way less effective than that of other council members.
The Labour Party was ranked the third in the municipal elections. Are you satisfied with the results in the elections?
We have nearly reached our goal: compared to 2007, the number of members in the council boosted by 60%. We are especially satisfied with our results inVilnius. We are grateful toVilniusresidents for their support. We have created a strategy, we consult with the specialists of psychology and other fields, which will help the members of the council to get involved and understand the urgent problems of the residents in a respective location.
Our goal is to be able to help people at all levels, whether we are in power or in opposition.
Can you share the secrets of successful business? For instance, how did you succeed in creating the business empires generating millions in revenue, what is your view of the conditions for business development created by the Lithuanian government today?
Success in business is one of the most elementary factors, irrespective of the type of business – be it decent, aggressive, or beyond fair competition, etc. In business, you need to act faster than others, better than others and do what others cannot do.
In global terms, the conditions in Lithuaniafor business development are neither the best nor the worst. The 50th position in the world and the 18th in the EU ranking mean that we are lagging behind. Investors and businessmen appreciate the business conditions in those countries, which fall into the top 5 in the world.
Today we hear about the boom in export, though export makes up only 4% of the added-value. It means that the share of export in the state revenue is rather trivial.
The taxes applied inLithuania,LatviaandEstoniaare very similar, therefore, all three countries faced the recession of 15–18%. Let’s go further –Poland,Germany,France,Great Britain,Ireland, etc. Some taxes in those countries vary from 0 to 6%. Are they less smart than us? They create competitive conditions in the sectors generating profit to the gross domestic product.
Businessmen often miss a clear strategy of the future among politicians. Do you have one?
The problem of the present government is its failure to realise that the budget needs to be planned and balanced. There are no analyses, no visions. You can never tell what will happen tomorrow.
We do have such a programme and we realise how to act. We may update it in respect of the situation.
Perhaps you know what to do to reduce the emigration and to increase the number of job places in Lithuania?
For as long as we fail to create a different life, we will not stop the emigration. I wrote some articles on this topic, we carried out surveys, we used the data from other surveys. Why is the youth leaving the country, why is the labour force running away fromLithuania?
The problem of emigration covers the total of ten criteria, and money does not play the leading role. Government’s disrespect for the ordinary people, protectionism, bureaucracy, corruption take the lead. A young person does not have any opportunities to find employment in the field of professional qualification. The stated factors cause discomfort and the feeling of insecurity. The shortage of money goes afterwards.
For instance, according to statistics, our compatriots in emigration officially sentLTL2-2.5 billion toLithuaniain 2005–2007 alone. We can be sure that another half of the stated sum was brought in cash. Each dollar or euro brought by them contributes to the accumulation of the national currency reserve, increases the demand of our producers inLithuania.
What can be done to create more jobs? First of all, the politicians and the government need to come face-to-face to an ordinary man and to provide a sense of security. Before leaving, a Lithuanian has to feel that he will always be welcome in Lithuania. That doesn’t cost anything. Another step is a rapid revival of economy.
The General Prosecutor of Lithuania addressed the EP leader asking to lift your immunity. You are one of the suspects in the case on the tax fraud of the Labour Party. However, you did not admit to be guilty and described yourself as a victim of a coordinated attack by the state. What arguments do you have to make such conclusions?
My arguments are founded on practice. There were analogue cases in the European Parliament when the immunity was preserved. A few weeks ago the European Parliament did not lift the immunity of a German MEP, who failed to file a tax return and was suspected of tax fraud. Why? Because he belongs to the largest faction in the European Parliament.
In my case, the case is related neither to my business, nor bribery, but the book-keeping of the Labour Party. Referring to the laws, the chairman of the party does not have to assume the liability for entries in the tax return. However, the arguments were not sufficient for the European Parliament to defend my immunity.
I belong to the third largest faction. It did support me, others did not. Competitors are everywhere. That is why I brought an action against the European Parliament before the Court of Justice of the European Communities. I will try to inform all the embassies and all the people to the maximum degree possible on what happened in the European Parliament in relation to my immunity. I was deprived of any access to all the documents, the hearings took place in my absence, I had few possibilities to express my position.
Can you give a broader commentary “on unlawful actions of the public authorities and law enforcement institutions in Lithuania and undemocratic processes in Lithuania and the European Parliament”?
I was given the opportunity to speak in one of the meetings of the European Parliament but my speaking was soon interrupted. The recordings can prove that. This case is absolutely politicised. There may be mistakes, but they are no crimes.
There is no evidence, there are no witnesses but the declared amounts are truly impressive. According to the public opinion, I am a bad guy. However, all is based on the words of a single accountant and no evidence whatsoever.
When I was in Moscow, the prosecutors and political opponents did everything to prevent me from coming back toLithuania. A big scandal was created for one and a half years and the international search was launched. In the meantime, Raimondas Šukys, the Minister of the Interior at that time, met me in the centre of Moscow without greater difficulty. Isn’t that a proof that I was not hiding?
It is much easier to speak about the bad things that are already over. When I was inRussia, all possible efforts were made to prevent me from coming back toLithuania.
The very first question of the General Prosecutor upon my return toVilniuswas: “Why did you come back?” I was absent for one and a half years. Why wasn’t the case investigated during that time?
What do you think stops the case of the Labour Party from being investigated?
The opponents find it beneficial to speak of Uspaskich’s case. If the case is investigated and it becomes clear that Uspaskich is only subject to paying a fine ofLTL1000 for some errors in accounting, what will be the public reaction after all that noise? Everyone will vote for me then…
“I can do many things… To do business, to cook, to build a house, to make a son or a daughter, to found a party,“ you asserted in a TV programme. Is there anything else that you are going to surprise Lithuania with in the immediate future?
I will stunLithuaniaif the nation shows its confidence in me. If the Labour Party wins the elections to the Seimas in 2012, I will become the Prime Minister and lift the country from the economic recession.
One of your most recent purchases in Brussels – a 170 square metre brand-new living space, equipped with a gym and even your own sauna. Where do you feel better – in Kėdainiai or Brussels? Are constant flights very tiring?
They are not tiring for me. It does not matter for me where to have breakfast – near the table or on board an airplane. I feel good both in Kėdainiai and in Brussels. I built my home in Kėdainiai from scratch. I created my personal housing in Brussels as well.
It feels like at home in Brussels. The sauna was designed under my own project, it is linked with a gym.
Does the job in the European Parliament bring positive emotions? Can you compare it with the service at the Seimas?
In the European Parliament, we receive more global information, which is of interest for me as a businessman. I visited 60–70 countries before my entry into active politics. Today, I find it really interesting to analyse where and when I made mistakes in my business.
The share of democracy and justice is the same everywhere. The EP has a political conjuncture. Therefore, the ruling majority usually takes the lead. The same applies to the Seimas. The difference is a more extensive political hypocrisy in the latter.
What is your opinion on the fact that the MEPs increased their office expenses? Is it difficult to make ends meet?
The salary of the members of the European Parliament makes up slightly more than five thousand euro, a daily allowance accounts for around 300 euro, a member can have three accredited assistants, 4000 euro are given for office expenses. I am probably the sole MEP, who founded around forty representation offices inLithuaniaand hired assistants.
I spend all the earned money on theterritoryofLithuania. I supplement the budget ofLithuaniaby taxes. Another thing is when the money earned is not spent in Lithuania.
Do you maintain contacts with other members of the European Parliament elected in Lithuania, for instance, Vytautas Landsbergis?
We are each busy with our own works, but we do say ‘hello’ when we meet.
Interviewed by Gintautas KNIUKŠTA
From Welder to Prime Minister?
Viktor Uspaskich was born on 24 July 1959 in a family of a forest worker in a small settlement of Urdoma of Arkhangelsk Region, North Russia. Upon graduating from the Ufa School of Welders, he was a foreman in the oil and gas industry sector – he was head of a welding brigade. As a specialist, he was assigned for the work in Finland in 1985. From 1987 he was employed as a welder in the construction of a pipeline in Kėdainiai. In 1990 he registered the first company of the would-be corporation Efektas UAB in Kėdainiai. From 1993 to 1996 Mr. Uspaskich was the managing director of Vikonda UAB; from 1996 to 2000 – the president of the corporation Vikonda UAB. From 1997 to 2003 he was elected chairman of the Lithuanian Confederation of Business Employers.
He first arrived to Lithuania in 1985. In 2002 he was elected the member of the Seimas of the Republic of Lithuania in Kėdainiai single-member constituency. The Labour Party founded by Viktor Uspaskich gained the largest number of mandates in the Seimas in 2004. In 2008–2009 he was a member of the Seimas, the chairman of the Labour Party faction in opposition. He refused his mandate in 2009 due to his election to the European Parliament.
“If I were…”
Viktor Uspaskich: “When I am asked, what I would do during such difficult times for the country, the times of global economic crisis, I answer: I would consider each factor, which constitutes the concept of economics. If I were a member of the Government or the prime minister, I would not reduce salaries for teachers, doctors, firefighters, policemen. I would not reduce the essential social guarantees because I would take care of the reserve since the very first day of my term of office, even if that would mean borrowing.
I would definitely reduce the bureaucratic apparatus, the army of public servants. I would reconsider the burden of taxes for those companies, which create a good, service or product that may replace the imported one. If required, I would exempt those companies, which produce goods for export, and find themselves on the verge of bankruptcy, from all taxes upon the analysis of their situation. I would do that for the purpose of saving companies and maintaining the jobs created by them.
I would promote the consumption of the national product; in special cases I would pay a portion of salary in coupons for certain social groups, which could be exchanged into the foodstuffs produced in Lithuania exclusively. Such measures are applied in the US, Japan, France during the time of economic crisis. I would also reduce import, currency export to other countries and would strengthen the national currency – the Litas. Perhaps the decisions seem revolutionary but they are indispensable.