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Rõivas: this is the most painful lesson of my life

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PHOTO: Liis Treimann

Deputy Chairman of the Riigikogu Taavi Rõivas admits in an interview to Postimees that he might have crossed the line when partying with a woman while on a business trip to Malaysia and promises to resign as deputy speaker.

It seems to me that you have it all: power, money, a loving family, children. To the people of Estonia, it seemed that you were short a drunken dalliance in a hotel bar in Kuala Lumpur on Thursday. Was that the case?

I believe I do have it all. Everything you listed… People around me, and especially members of my family were deeply hurt because. These events have been described somewhat colorfully. Details I cannot agree with have been added. However, that is not paramount. If what happened in Kuala Lumpur crossed a line for someone, it is fitting I take responsibility and apologize for it.

I am very sorry I only found out much later that the person I was in contact with at the party was wounded by these events. Had she told me so right away, or contacted me the next day, which is something she said she was considering, perhaps this whole thing… this misunderstanding would have been easier to clear up.

Allow me to quote Eesti Päevaleht: “I tried to escape the situation; I was pulling my dress down, while he was trying to pull it up; I told him to “stop” several times.” Did you lead someone in between refrigerators?

That description does not fit what really happened.

What happened?

Let us begin by saying it was a group gathering one could not withdraw from.

Her statement about refrigerators being visible on CCTV footage she later watched was a lie?

I cannot say what she looked at.

There were no refrigerators away from the company; you could not have moved off?

I have no knowledge of there having been refrigerators, and I definitely did not lead, not to mention dragging, anyone there. However, that is not the main thing. It is clear that we either knowingly or unknowingly offended several people in the group with our behavior. Responsibility needs to be taken, also by myself as one of the members and leader of the delegation.

Someone fell into the pool, someone had a drink thrown in their face, and someone gallivanted.

The pool incident is the clearest. I was not close by at the time, much less was I a participant; however, this thing has been cleared up between the concerned parties.

I would once again quote Eesti Päevaleht in connection with the incident that concerns your person: “At one point he pulled me off the dancefloor and led me around the corner of the bar between two fridges. He was very aggressive when we were talking. That alone was unpleasant.

From there things spiraled out of control; he started pulling up my dress and touching me.” Is this about you?

The account is accurate up until the dancefloor. The company started dancing at point, together.

Something must have happened for her to go so far as to throw up such an accusation publicly. We went over the event several times together yesterday (day before yesterday – ed.) and realized our versions are quite different. We agreed we would not argue over the details publicly.

One time I realized she felt bad, for which I apologized yesterday (day before yesterday – ed.), was when we all went dancing, while the others soon left and we remained in the middle of the dancefloor. She felt uncomfortable because there was too much attention and wanted to leave. The others were close by, but nevertheless… I asked her whether she said she wanted to leave, or whether I kept her from going in some way. She said I didn’t stop her but it was difficult for her to leave.

The dancefloor?

Exactly. She later said we left the dancefloor together, but that she had felt uncomfortable for a time.

The people of Estonia read Eesti Päevaleht and it says: “He was very aggressive already when we were kissing. That alone was unpleasant.”

I cannot agree with that.

You did not kiss her?

No, I did not. I was not aggressive…

You didn’t feel her up?

I will say again that if she felt uncomfortable in my company, I’m willing to accept that. I’m prepared to apologize both in private and publicly. I have several times. I am ashamed of my behavior.

I believe neither dancing, kissing, nor touching is acceptable when one is married. One should not go dancing with strange women in nightclubs. I admit I have done it before. I am no saint; I have attended parties – not many. Parties tend to get very high-spirited. However, it if hurts someone and they tell me two and a half weeks later, it is something I take very seriously.

You maintain that you left the dancefloor but you didn’t kiss her, pick up the hem of her dress, try to lift it up, and touch her?

I suppose these details are added to make the story juicier.

You did not kiss, touch, or lift up her dress?

Indeed, I did not.

How much alcohol had you consumed that night?

I make no secret of the fact we were both in high spirits and had consumed alcohol. It was an afterparty, a jolly event. However, it’s a fact the party went too far in several places.

I spoke to several people who were present at the party about today’s (yesterday’s – ed.) Eesti Päevaleht. They said it paints a distorted picture. It says members of the business delegation were out of line almost in corpore. Others said it was not distinguishable from any other party. However, if someone feels bad, people’s endurance limit… some people are hurt by finding themselves on the dancefloor with just their dance partner. I accept it when I’m later told about it.

You say you did not kiss or touch her; however, what did you do after leaving the dancefloor?

We rejoined the group. She has said as much. Versions differ as concerns details. Had I kissed someone, I would not have a problem admitting it. I would first be ashamed in front of my wife, which I am anyway.

Are you ashamed of even finding yourself in that situation, or that things went a bit too far?

We must have crossed the line then, flirted or something.

You are willing to admit the dancing went too far, while there was no kissing?

Yes.

Whence the inconsistency however? I understand it when I’m being kissed. It is not something that can be interpreted in more ways than one.

I honestly don’t know. There have been other conflicting claims. Perhaps different things have been put together. There are no personal accusations against me…

It reads: “He was very aggressive when he kissed me.”

Yes; however, it makes no explicit mention of my person. That said, I deem it necessary to publicly say that these allegations were initially aimed at me after which I met with the person making them. I let her talk, said I wasn’t going to argue.

We had spoken over the phone before that. I said that we both know these things did not happen. She disagreed. I do not know whether she has remade what happened in her head. For some reason, she is stuck in that story. I cannot subscribe to it; however, it is not important. The fact is she was hurt, and I went too far.

How did your family react?

One can hardly doubt this is all very difficult for the family.

What did you tell your wife?

I showed her the initial email the journalist sent me that claimed I made advances toward several women and other colorful details. I showed her everything and said this is what I’m being accused of.

Was it ever a possibility your marriage would not see its third month?

Of course it was. When I received this very thorough email where the journalist claims I had approached several women and the paper has testimony from all of them. They told me that they had testimony from three persons, which they did not have. It is nonsense.

It is a typical your word against mine situation.

Indeed. I spoke to people who are familiar with the field today, and they told me that a person regarding which such allegations are made is completely defenseless. It was my sincere wish to understand the desire to make this all public in the first place.

Your fellow Reform Party member Kristen Michal said: “I believe that Taavi’s ethics will lead him to make a decision the public will understand.” Was he talking about your resignation from the post of deputy speaker?

Taking political responsibility is the sensible thing to do in this situation. And if there are accusations against me – irrespective of whether I’m willing to admit them, either in part of entirely – I don’t want my loved ones to be under that pressure for a long time. I don’t want to keep my party, that has absolutely nothing to do with this situation, under fire either; and I absolutely am ready to resign as deputy speaker. If that is the price… I am willing to do it, yes.

You’ll hand in your resignation tomorrow (today – ed.)?

We must look at the technical side; it is not something that can be done at any time. But yes, I have made the decision.

Will you remain in the Riigikogu?

I believe I have things to offer the Estonian people as a politician, even though I realize this massive attack will seriously complicate my political activity – irrespective of my skills in foreign or finance policy. I believe people will relish in recalling how Rõivas was involved in something nasty in Malaysia, which must mean he was guilty. It will stay with me.

And the lesson?

It is the most painful lesson of my life. I hope it is also a lesson for all my friends and competitors in politics. Another lesson is that I will not be the first to comment should these kinds of allegations be brought against someone else.

Do you feel this was a trap?

(Pauses.) I don’t know. I really don’t know, because when I agree to a meeting with a person and they turn up with a newspaper photographer – there must some premeditation involved. When I feel events described have been consciously spiced up…

Which really does not change anything for me. Had there been kissing, I would not have been ashamed to admit it. That is not what matters. But in a situation where such things have been constructed, probably over several weeks… I don’t know whether it’s a trap, an attempt to destroy me.

I was not left with that impression when I talked to that woman yesterday (day before – ed.). She seemed sincere, while it later turned out a photographer was waiting outside the door. She said she

understands how important this is for me and my wife that our child would not have to read about it or hear about it from her classmates. She said we have the same understanding.

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