Veerpalu case brings state awards confiscation total to 14

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Andrus Veerpalu pictured in 2017

President Kersti Kaljulaid's decision Thursday to strip former cross-country ski star Andrus Veerpalu of his two state decorations brings the total number of individuals so divested of their awards to fourteen.

President Kaljulaid has recalled a total of four state awards from recipients in her tenure so far. Toomas Hendrik Ilves took away the remaining 10, during his two-term stint as president, 2006-2016.

Ilves' predecessors, Arnold Rüütel and, before him, Lennart Meri, doled out state awards perhaps more prolifically, and many of those who have been demoted in this way – including Andrus Veerpalu – had received their awards during the first two presidents' terms.

The recall of Veerpalu's two awards, granted in 2002 and 2006, the two years he won Winter Olympic Gold, followed shortly after news that the skier-turned-coach had been hit with a two-year ban by the international sports arbitration court.

Veerpalu was intrinsically linked with a ski doping scandal which came to light at the February 2019 World Championships in Seefeld, Austria, following a police sting operation.

Veerpalu's own son, Andreas, was also implicated, along with other Estonian skiers and one Kazakh, coached by Veerpalu senior, as well as team coach Mati Alaver.

While Alaver's fall from grace came swiftly – his state decorations were taken away just days later and ahead of any court judgment on the matter – it has taken over two years for Veerpalu's to be returned to Kadriorg.

Section 13 of the Decorations Act permits the head of state to strip any state decorations if a recipient's subsequent conduct is adjudged to be such that it would have precluded him or her from having received the award in the first place.

In addition to Veerpalu and Alaver, 12 people have had the same treatment, most recently a former "mother of the year" who was found guilty of child abuse.

In 2009, President Toomas Hendrik Ilves recalled the Order of the White Star (Valgetähe), 4th class, from convicted traitor Hermann Simm. Simm, who was spying for the Russian Federation, has since been released.

In the same year, Ilves recalled the Cross of the Terra Mariana ( Maarjamaa Rist), 5th class, from Risto Teinonen after a photo came to light of him wearing it alongside a Nazi emblem.

Ilves also stripped former police chief Aivar Otsalt of his Cross of the Eagle (Kotkarist), 4th Class, following a corruption conviction.

A conviction relating to child sex offenses saw Jaan Aitaja, a promoter of folk culture, stripped of his award in 2013, while Sergei Bõstrov, a civil servant, had his White Star, 5th Class confiscated the following year. Bõstrov had been involved in the leaking of classified information and also embezzlement.

Two politicians, Villu Reiljan and Ester Tuiksoo – linked to the long-running Edgar Savisaar corruption case which has engulfed the Center Party for several years now – were relieved of their state decorations, also by President Ilves, between 2010 and 2014, due to a land swap case, while businessman Toomas Annus and former head of the Land Board (Maa-amet) Kalev Kangur also had to return their decorations, relating to the same case.

President Kersti Kaljulaid took away two awards in 2017 and 2019 from former Internal Security Service employees Jüri Figlovski and Vladimir Kulikov, for espionage and compromising state secrets.

Estonia's state awards are: The Order of the Cross of Terra Mariana, the Order of the National Coat of Arms, the Order of the White Star, the Order of the Cross of the Eagle and the Order of the Estonian Red Cross.

They are awarded annually, to coincide with February's independence day.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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