Based on a request from the Political Party Funding Oversight Committee, the Prosecutor's Office decided today to launch a criminal case into use of the Tallinn city budget to finance Center Party political advertising during the 2013 municipal elections.
The Internal Security Service will investigate and the Prosecutor's Office will supervise the investigation.
As reported in late May, the committee asked politicians to pay for the ads themselves. Most ofthe people in question are Center Party officials.
It then took the next step of asking the prosecutors to launch criminal case.
"Such activity is not in line with the requirement of neutrality set forth in the Public Service Act and it also goes against the financing restrictions set forth in the Political Parties Act. The committee also finds it could be violation of the restriction on types of activities set forth in the Anti-Corruption Act and illegal appropriation of local government funds," the committee said in a statement.
In late May, the Center Party said in its defense that the party sees the committee as interfering with the autonomy of local governments to decide their own affairs.
"Above all, this is an attempt to damage the reputation of the Center-governed city of Tallinn," said party spokesman Taavi Pukk.
He said the information campaigns of local governments are a normal part of city government activity. At the 2013 local elections, the Center Party spent 830,000 euros on campaigns, and filed all of the reporting required by law, Pukk said.
"The Center Party has always paid its campaign expenses based on all legislation and this will continue to be the case," he said.
The committee began its investigation after the elections with the main question focused on whether the ads were of a political nature. Many of the ads trod a thin line, such as large pictures of politicians inviting Tallinners to participate in recreational events.
If they were political, then that could mean illegal donations, in the form of the ads, were made to the politicians by the city and in the case of one Reform Party politician also fingered, a business. Companies and other legal persons may not donate to political parties in Estonia.
The precept issued by the committee is based on a study by University of Tartu researchers, who said the ads were aimed at promoting the politicians.