Investigative reporters at ETV have revealed how a British stag party turned into an international hostage crisis when pranksters unknowingly mobilized hundreds of police officers in Estonia and the United Kingdom.
The incident occurred over a 30-hour period last March in Tallinn, a popular destination for bachelor parties.
In one such party, on March 8, festivities started as in any other, with a group of a dozen friends from Manchester and London, aged 25 to 38, exploring Tallinn's Old Town bar scene, as well as one strip club. At 23:00, one of the men was so intoxicated that his friends sent him back to the hotel in a taxi.
However, the group did not find him when they returned to the hotel at 03:00 in the morning. They had a hard time getting in touch with him and began panicking the next afternoon when various text messages made different claims: that their friend had been killed, that he had been arrested, and finally that he was being held hostage for a 5,000-euro ransom.
On the evening of March 9, the police were notified, launching a massive operation involving investigators, negotiators, the Estonian Foreign Ministry, the British Embassy and Manchester police.
Over the next 30 hours, authorities combed hospitals across the country, as well as Tallinn's bars and the Kelmiküla, Kalamaja and Pelgulinn neighborhoods.
Investigators also combed through hundreds of police calls and tracked down two calls on the night of the party reporting an intoxicated English-speaking foreigner barely able to stand up and trying to open car doors. Police also traced a call that had been made to the missing Brit's phone from an Estonian phone.
Although the idea of an irresponsible joke remained a possible scenario for investigators, most of the evidence pointed toward something more malevolent - until shortly before officers were poised to raid a home.
It turned out, dumbfounded investigators learned, that a group of respectable Estonian businessmen had found the Brit drunk and laying in the snow, and had brought him home to an apartment, where they had in the meantime been partying for two days.
Annoyed by the constant calling of his friends, the Estonians initiated the joke, complete with a shocking photo series, which they did not manage to transmit, however, because their new-found friend's phone had died.
The would-be victim later said he was too intoxicated to remember anything from the two-day period.
The twist is that, due to a lack of scope in Estonian law, the Estonian taxpayer has to foot the bill for the police operations. Those involved in the affair are punishable only by misdemeanor for a few hundred euros. A case is currently ongoing.