A court has sentenced a former "mother of the year" to four-and-a-half years in prison, after being found guilty of child abuse.
Pärnu County Court found Malle Kobin, who was awarded the mother of the year title in 2013, guilty on Monday, and sentenced her to four years and six months in prison.
The first-tier county court found Kobin, 68, guilty of the physical abuse of minors, depriving minors of liberty without a legal basis and illegally taking possession of property, in charges relating to five foster children aged from nine to 17, who had been in her care at her home on Hiiumaa, over the period 2016-2019.
Kobin allegedly struck the minors repeatedly with both her hands and feet, and locked them in various different rooms for periods from a few minutes at a time, to several days.
She also allegedly forced them to stand in one location for 12 or more hours at a time.
The charges of taking illegal possession of property related to a bicycle, a computer, and other possessions belonging to one of her former charges, now an adult.
Kobin denied the charges, adding that the illegal possession of property the court found her guilty of related to what she saw as compensation for money one of her former charges had allegedly stolen from her.
Kobin's lawyers had called into question witness statement reliability from some of the victims, arguing that these had changed between the pre-trial proceedings and the trial itself. However the court found the statements on the essentials, such as daily living conditions, punishments, and their relations with Kobin, to be reliable.
Witness statements found to be reliable
Conversely the court did not find Kobin's statements reliable, as they contradicted evidence and appeared to be self-justifying.
"The victims have credibly explained in court why, while living with M. Kobin, they did not dare to tell other people about the real living conditions -- they feared new and tougher penalties," judge Piia Jaaksoo said.
"Violence is unacceptable, within a family as well. When raising children, they must not be physically punished or deprived of their freedom of movement as a form punishment. The actions of M. Kobin described in the charges and proved in court show that she behaved with the children in the aforementioned manner. Thus, although M. Kobin has no prior convictions, the court found that sentencing her to a more lenient sentence than imprisonment was not viable," Jaaksoo went on.
Kobin must also pay a little over €900 to the state, as well as fees of over €6,500 to the victims' legal representatives, and €10,500 to her own lawyer.
The accused may appeal the decision with the second-tier Tallinn Circuit Court within 15 days of the ruling.
Prosecutor Indrek Kalda had sought real jail time for Kobin in June, on the grounds that the charges were too serious to warrant a suspended sentence, regardless of the fact she had no prior record.
Kobin's lawyer says she should be cleared of all charges.
The trial took place behind closed doors at Pärnu County Court; Kobin declined to plead guilty.
The criminal investigation was launched in August last year, after the Social Insurance Board (Sotsiaalkindlustusamet) filed a report of criminal offense.
Kobin was presented the award in 2013 by then-president Toomas Hendrik Ilves. In 2016 she ran for election to the Center Party's governing board.
Editor: Andrew Whyte