Estonia's top pro-Russian politician detained for corruption

22nd September 2015, Comments 0 comments

Estonian justice authorities on Tuesday pressed corruption charges against controversial Tallinn Mayor Edgar Savisaar, who also heads the largest opposition party popular with the Baltic EU and NATO state's large Russian minority.

"This morning the internal security service presented Tallinn Mayor Edgar Savisaar with charges of repeated bribe-taking," Ilmar Kahro, spokesman for the state prosecutor's office, told AFP, adding that he has been detained.

Savisaar allegedly took bribes in 2014-15 in the form of "assets and favours for himself and other persons, valued at several hundred thousand euros (dollars)."

Kahro said several other people were also detained on corruption charges Tuesday, including the CEO of a leading construction company.

Savisaar's ill health has posed a challenge for his pro-Russian Centre party. The 65-year-old had part of his leg amputated earlier this year after being hospitalised in critical condition with a severe infection.

Commanding 27 seats in parliament, his party is mainly backed by the ethnic Russian minority, accounting for one quarter of the country's population.

Savisaar's detention could "lead to the radicalisation" of his core Russian-speaking supporters "which in turn could complicate Estonia's security situation", said Ahto Lobjakas, an independent analyst and columnist at Estonia's leading Postimees daily.

Tensions between tiny NATO member Estonia and neighbouring Russia have surged since Moscow's March 2014 annexation of Crimea from Ukraine and the ongoing conflict in eastern Ukraine between pro-Russia rebels and the government.

Lobjakas said Savisaar's detention would also cement "the standing of the ruling centre-right, pro-Western Reform party" led by Prime Minister Taavi Roivas.

The Reform party itself was hit by unproven allegations of receiving funds from the state-owned Port of Tallinn after two of its senior managers were indicted last month for taking bribes worth millions of euros.

Savisaar, an ex-communist, was Estonia's first prime minister in 1991-92 after it gained independence from the crumbling Soviet Union.

© 2015 AFP

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