There are currently six suspects in the criminal case of liquor and tobacco smuggling discovered onboard the Estonian minehunter EML Sakala (M314).
A spokesperson for the Office of the Prosecutor General told BNS that currently six people have been interrogated in connection with the criminal case, adding that all six persons are members of the vessel's crew.
According to the spokesperson, the necessary procedural acts are still ongoing and it is too early to say when the criminal case might reach the prosecutor's office.
The pretrial investigation is being conducted by the MTA.
Contraband tobacco, liquor found on board
In November of last year, officers of the Customs Department of the MTA found 56 cases of cigarettes and around 1,000 liters of strong liquor, all of it without revenue stamps, on board the Estonian minehunter Sakala. Officials did not reveal the country of origin of the contraband goods. The MTA was notified about the case by Navy command.
The agency opened an investigation to determine to whom the illegal goods belonged and whether they were dealing with a misdemeanor or a crime. The discovered amount exceeded the maximum limit of a misdemeanor five-fold.
Since there were more than 30 people on the Sakala at the time of the check, it was being investigated to whom the liquor and cigarettes belonged, a spokesperson for the agency told BNS at the time. The main objective of the investigation would be to find out whether a crew member owned contraband liquor and cigarettes in an amount that would make the matter a crime, he explained.
Shortly thereafter, then-Minister of Defence Hannes Hanso accepted the letter of resignation of Navy Capt. Sten Sepper, chief of the Estonian Navy, and the Navy’s leadership granted the transfer request of Lt. Cmdr. Ott Laanemets in connection with the case.
"The Navy chief has decided to resign due to the damage to reputation accompanying the unacceptable event, irrespective of where the opened criminal case and official investigation will lead," said Hanso, adding that an Estonian officer must be prepared to take full responsibility for what is happening within their area of responsibility.
The Estonian minehunter Sakala is part of the Standing NATO Mine Countermeasures Group 1 (SNMCMG1).
Editor: Aili Vahtla