A more solemn Riigikogu sitting than usually began at 3 p.m. yesterday afternoon. The president arrived for the swearing in of the new government. Ministers signed their oath of office one after the other in front of the parliament. However, tensions had been building among politicians of government parties all the preceding weekend regarding allegations of domestic abuse against incoming foreign trade and IT minister Marti Kuusik.
By the time Prime Minister Jüri Ratas called the name of Conservative People’s Party (EKRE) minister Kuusik, President Kersti Kaljulaid had left the Riigikogu hall. Kuusik stepped in front of the parliament, nodded to the president’s empty chair, signed, bowed to the Riigikogu and left the podium. Kaljulaid returned to her seat by the time Minister of Foreign Affairs Urmas Reinsalu took the podium.
When Kuusik returned to his seat beside EKRE deputy chair Martin Helme, everyone could see the latter’s reaction to the president leaving the room – Helme shook his head for a long time, looking at where Kaljulaid had been sitting.
Kaljulaid was visibly shaken when she explained her sudden protest to journalists. Every subsequent question sent the president’s – who has made combating domestic abuse one of her priorities – lips quivering more visibly before she answered. Kaljulaid said it was impossible for her to act any other way.
She also said that should allegation turn out false, she will be the first one to apologize to Kuusik. “People who have experience with domestic violence know that conclusions are best put off until circumstances have been ascertained,” the president said. A criminal investigation that Minister of Justice Raivo Aeg told ERR has already been launched to get to the bottom of allegations should bring clarity in this matter.
Members of the new government and their aids made nervous phone calls to newspaper editorials over the weekend, trying to get a feel for progress in terms of efforts to investigate Marti Kuusik’s allegedly violent conduct and whether the story would break on the day of the government being sworn in.
Rumors of the new minister’s violent past did not start last Thursday, as suggested by PM Jüri Ratas, but immediately after Kuusik became a ministerial candidate for EKRE three weeks ago.
The nascent government seemed to have plenty of questions regarding Kuusik’s past as Ratas summoned the politician and EKRE leaders Mart and Martin Helme to his office four hours before the Riigikogu sitting. Ratas asked Kuusik whether domestic abuse has occurred in his family and was told no. “He looked me in the eye and said nothing of the sort has happened,” Ratas later told Postimees.
Several sources suggest Ratas proposed postponing swearing Kuusik in as minister but was turned down by the Helmes. “I was very clear in that if something like this has happened, if these doubts are founded, a man like that cannot work in the government,” Ratas said.
Asked whether he categorically refutes domestic abuse after the Riigikogu sitting yesterday, Kuusik answered “absolutely”.
“We have heard very vague claims of horrendous acts I absolutely do not see myself as having committed,” Kuusik said.
The minister regarded the president’s protest move as unbecoming. “Had I done something wrong, there would be cause for such condemnation,” he added. Four hours after being sworn in, Kuusik told ERR’s evening Ringvaade program he does not plan to resign.
Both deny claims
Kuusik told Postimees in a written reply that he has nothing to do with domestic abuse. “These are baseless lies, and my ex-wife spoke to your publication last week.” The police said yesterday afternoon that they have not received a single complaint of domestic abuse against Mart Kuusik and no relevant proceedings have been launched.
Postimees contacted Kuusik’s alleged victim who refused to meet with the journalist but said in a written reply that allegations are false. “The claim is absurd. Marti Kuusik is a very good father, we get along very well, and he will make a good minister. He has my full support,” the woman said.
Postimees received numerous tips over a long period of time concerning Kuusik’s potential violent streak. Journalists spoke to several sources who said hints are substantiated. Because the subject matter is delicate, Postimees decided not to run the story without confirmation from the alleged victim. Weekly Eesti Ekspress wrote yesterday that its sources suggest Kuusik has broken his ex-wife’s arm on two occasions.
EKRE leader, Minister of the Interior Mart Helme said he spoke to Kuusik’s ex-wife on the phone and was told rumors of domestic abuse are false. Information available to Postimees suggests Marti Kuusik called his ex-wife during a meeting with Jüri Ratas and Mart and Martin Helme.