Deputy chairman of the Conservative People’s Party (EKRE) Mart Helme is threatening to sue former foreign ministry deputy secretary general Indrek Tarand and former foreign minister Toomas Hendrik Ilves over libel and is seeking compensation of €50,000 for non-material damage.
The interior minister demands Tarand and Ilves recant what he describes as defamatory false claims inside ten days and an end to any further libel. Helme is also demanding compensation of €50,000 and vows to turn to court should these demands not be met.
Former deputy secretary general of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Indrek Tarand wrote in an opinion piece published in Eesti Ekspress how ruling politicians covered up Mart Helme’s financial violations when he was serving as ambassador to Moscow. Helme describes as false Tarand’s claim according to which the ministry’s internal audit department caught him misusing 500,000 kroons. Helme also refutes the claim of Ilves, made in the August 5 issue of Eesti Päevaleht, according to which the ambassador had money troubles and was recalled early because of confusion surrounding handling of funds.
Mart Helme says that no audit concerning financial affairs during his time in Moscow ever accused him of wrongdoing. “The ambassador has minimal contact with administrative affairs and even lacks the power to make decisions of how to use funds independently. Use of budget funds is the discretion and responsibility of the minister, secretary general and deputy secretary general and the head of the administrative department, not the ambassador,” the politician explained. Helme served as ambassador to Moscow in 1995-1999.
“It is also not true that Ilves recalled me from Moscow early. In truth, my assignment was extended by a few months and instead of being recalled, I started work as the ministry’s deputy secretary general following an in-house competition. These rumors spread by Tarand and Ilves constitute slander and only serve the purpose of political point-scoring. I’m announcing my intent to turn to court as defamation cannot be a non-punishable activity in Estonia.”
Postimees asked the prosecution to assess whether events referenced by Ilves and Tarand that took place at the foreign ministry 20 years ago could result in a criminal investigation today but was told that as far as penal law is concerned, the matter is expired.
Press adviser for the Office of the Prosecutor General Kairi Küngas said that the prosecution could only determine whether a criminal offense was committed after studying the circumstances that cannot be done based on media coverage alone. “Because this case is from more than 20 years ago, it is expired as far as penal law is concerned and the prosecution is not in a position to provide such assessments,” she explained.
Toomas Hendrik Ilves did not wish to comment on the potential action, while Postimees was also unable to secure a comment from Indrek Tarand.