Doctor released young men from service for bribes

Joosep Värk
, reporter
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Photo: Meelis Meilbaum / Virumaa Teataja

It is probable that most past and current conscripts have heard stories of how a seemingly healthy and athletic young man has turned out to be unsuitable for service in the armed forces.

While there is hardly in any reason to doubt the fact that the large number of unsuitable candidates points to the poor physical condition of young men in Estonia, the case of a doctor charged by the public prosecutor's office last Friday proves there is merit to rumors as well: doctors willing to diagnose illnesses people might not have in exchange for money are out there.

The physician in question worked in Tallinn and Harju County medical institutions where several hundred euros and talk of „frequent headaches“ was enough for a diagnosis that could help one escape compulsory military service in the medical assessment committee in 2011-2014.

Some were released from service right away, while others had to settle for extensions and use the doctor's services for several consecutive years.

While specifics of diagnoses make it impossible to say in hindsight whether the young men had cause to be correspondingly diagnosed, charges suggest they paid for them anyway. The physician was therefore charged with accepting of bribes.

Surprisingly enough, the neurologist in question is not the main character of this story. The doctor worked with several people who kept finding young men looking to avoid military service. One of the latter can in hindsight be identified as the principal supplier.

Services offered online

Their cooperation took place between 2011 and 2014. Clients found their way to the middleman through mutual acquaintances, but also through websites and an online forum where the man advertised the service. It is impossible to determine how much money the scheme made for its organizers; however, case prosecutor Steven-Hristo Evestus said the usual fee ranged from a few hundred to several thousand euros depending on the number of middlemen involved.

The primary middleman met with clients and took their money to the physician. While he later moved abroad, this did little to hinder his activities. Rather the opposite was true as the man ceased his cooperation with the doctor and began to falsify documents himself from 2014. He falsified a doctor's signature and diagnoses on people's medical records.

For the scheme to work, he needed middlemen in Estonia to exchange falsified documents for money. One, who had used the same scheme to shirk military service, has been charged with mediating bribes today. The investigation also looked at the primary middleman's parents who transported document envelopes received from abroad.

Evestus did not charge the parents due to lack of public interest to prosecute. „As they had been law-abiding citizens their whole lives who had become involved in their son's scheme, I decided to close their case due to lack of public interest, which still leaves them with financial obligations to the state,“ the prosecutor said.

The same solution was used in the case of young men who had offered bribes. „They had no prior punishments. They were all interrogated and offered up everything they knew about the scheme. Their financial obligations do not exceed €1,000,“ Evestus explained. The prosecution has forwarded the young men's information to the Estonian Defense Resources Agency, meaning they will have to report to the medical assessment committee again.

The fourth person to be charged was the dishonest doctor's son who also kept in touch with the mediators and took bribes to his father.

Agency suspected fraud

The one of a kind case in recent years started with a tip of the doctor's dishonest practices, said head of the Corruption Crime Bureau of the Central Criminal Police Mati Ombler.

The defense resources agency's PR Adviser Anne Osvelt said that while they also reported the activities of the doctor, a criminal investigation was already underway based on a tip from another citizen by then. „The agency suspected some of the medical certificates might be falsified,“ Osvelt said. She added that the agency has not harbored such doubts concerning other doctors.

Osvelt said that conscription decisions based on falsified certificates have largely been reviewed by today, while some are still in the making. „If their health indicators are in order, they will be called up for military service,“ Osvelt said.

The agency will not, however, be able to summon men who have turned 28 in the meantime as the law provides no such possibility.