Center Party MP resigns 2 days before Supreme Court verdict is due, sexual harassment allegations emerge (14)
Center Party MP Priit Toobal announced on Wednesday that he will vacate his position in the Parliament ahead of the verdict by the Supreme Court in his case. Toobal has been charged with instigating unauthorized surveillance and found guilty by Harju County Court and Tallinn District Court. His resignation came shortly before an Estonian daily published accusations that he has made indecent proposals to underage boys in social media.
Toobal sent out a press release on Wednesday evening, in which he announced his resignation as an MP.
“Should the Supreme Court find me guilty, the Parliament would have to expel me. That would do no good to neither the reputation of the Parliament nor Estonia in general,” he exclaimed. “I have therefore decided to resign before the verdict is due. This way the Supreme Court too has more liberty to evaluate what implications its decision has on the reputation of the country and its legislature.”
He added: “I've been repeatedly accused of holding on to my seat at all costs. May this letter of resignation prove that persons who put ideals, principles, the homeland and its people well above their personal careers are also elected to Toompea [the seat of the Estonian Parliament – ed.].”
In October 2014, Toobal, 31, and his fellow Center Party MP Lauri Laasi, 41, were found guilty of instigating unauthorized surveillance. Toobal was given a one-year suspended sentence with three years probation for encouraging Ivor Onksion, 25, to hack the email account of Hannes Rumm, former journalist and now head of the European Commission's representation in Estonia. He was also found guilty of forging several Center Party's income declarations to hide illegal cash donations, worth a total of 11,030 euros and 28 cents.
Toobal appealed the decision but the guilty verdict was upheld by Tallinn District Court in March. Having been convicted by two lower tiers of the Estonian court system, Toobal appealed to the Supreme Court, which will make a final and definite decision on Friday, November 20.
Toobal and Laasi have not pleaded guilty to any of the charges, calling their case a politically motivated attack. They have hitherto refused to resign as MPs although neither man managed to secure a mandate in their respective districts, only making it to the Parliament thanks to a high position in the party's nationwide compensation seat list. Laasi is also the MP with the lowest number of votes to his name – 407. Laasi still continues in the Parliament.
Daily Postimees made public today allegations that the former MP has groomed minors in social media, making indecent comments about their bodies and offering them alcohol.
The daily claims to have extracts of several Facebook conversations Toobal had with underage boys from an unnamed high school in his electoral district.
“The one and only reason we decided to run with the story is to save young people from ending up in situations like this in the future,” Oliver Kund, one of the reporters who investigated the case for Postimees, told ERR.
Toobal allegedly contacted the boys after seeing them play for the school's volleyball team.
“He [Toobal – ed.] was aware that the boys he contacted were minors and the boys thought he just wanted to talk about sports, which was really not the case. So the situation, the conversation and the way Priit Toobal used his contacts and perhaps his influence to his advantage, can be called indecent,” Kond said.
He added that the daily had first planned to publish the article on Friday, not before the Supreme Court verdict was in. However, the developments in the case made them move the publication date ahead.
Toobal called the allegations a provocation and an attempt to tarnish his reputation.
“Like many Estonian men, I too like to occasionally have a drink and go to a sauna, but I have definitely not knowingly invited minors to a sauna or offered to give them alcohol, and I never would,” Toobal said in a statement last night.
“My decision [to resign – ed.] was made over the weekend. Postimees is overdoing it by thinking that I'm resigning because of a story they made up. I'm ready to go to court to have these false allegations overturned,” he said.