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Lithuanian MEP Viktor Uspaskich, former leader of the Labour Party and member of ALDE/ADLE Group in the European Parliament, might be in trouble for questionable assistant hiring practices. Fellow Lithuanian MEP Gabrielius Landsbergis, of the PPE Group, on Monday asked the European Parliament to look into the matter, BNS reports.
Viktor Uspaskich
© DELFI / Kiril Čachovskij

In his letter to EP President Martin Schulz, Landsbergis notes that Uspaskich's accredited assistant Rita Giannini is the wife of Graham Watson, former MEP and ALDE leader who actively defended Uspaskich in his battle to maintain legal immunity in the last parliament.

Uspaskich had been charged in Lithuania with fraud in his party's bookkeeping. As an MEP, he enjoyed legal immunity from prosecution which he was stripped of following lengthy procedures in the last European Parliament. A Lithuanian court eventually found Uspaskich guilty last year and sentenced him to four years in prison. The politician has appealed the verdict.

Lithuanian prosecutors have recently addressed the European Parliament again over Uspaskich's legal immunity, which was reinstated following last year's elections.

"In my view, this is a violation of EP regulations and practices which are based on a dictum that you do not use administrative resources for your own personal gain. I suspect, that this is what's happening here," Landsbergis told BNS on Monday. "By using connections and one's being in certain circles, one can influence things in EP corridors, say, pick a chat with fellow MEPs, perhaps a member of the legal committee."

Landsbergis says he is confident that the EP president will start an investigation.

Giannini's husband, Graham Watson, used to chair ALDE, the fourth-biggest group in the European Parliament. In July last year, he publicly spoke in Uspaskich's defence, implying that his prosecution might be motivated by the fact that he was a Russian-speaker.

Uspaskich himself told BNS he was free to appoint "whomever he wants" as his assistant. Giannini, he said, was chosen because of her legal expertise.

"It is my business how I choose people to political positions. She [Giannini] is very good at legal issues," Uspaskich says.

Uspaskich is a member of the Legal Affairs committee (JURI), which will address his own legal immunity issue.

EP regulations only forbid members to hire family members and relatives as their assistants.