Court rejects former Postimees editor online grooming offense appeal

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Tallinn Circuit Court building on Pärnu mnt. Source: Riigikohus.ee

A court has upheld a suspended jail sentence imposed on a former editor-in-chief at daily Postimees, who was convicted in an online grooming case. The defendant, Peeter Helme, said he had believed he had been communicating with a minor, whereas the online conversation was part of a police sting operation.

The second-tier Tallinn Circuit Court dismissed an appeal and left unchanged a suspended sentence of one year, three months and 28 days in jail, plus a two-year period of probation.

The circuit court noted that in none of the "chats" recorded in the surveillance process did the undercover Police and Border Guard Board (PPA) operative, who used the username "Marleen12", steer the conversation on to matters of a sexual nature, and that these had always been initiated by the defendant, BNS reports.

The account displayed information to the effect that the "user", of an online chat site, was 12 years of age, it is reported.

The original charge sheet stated that Helme, 42, had attempted to sexually entice a minor, between October 8 and October 12 2019.

The circuit court upheld the original county court ruling, agreeing with its findings that Helme had acted with direct intent.

Defense counsel Raul Ainla said that Helme believed his interlocutor was an adult, a claim which the court rejected, stating that the user name ought to have made the age clear.

In any case, the court said, the evidence consisting of the opening conversation threads demonstrated that the defendant was aware that he was communicating with a minor.

The age of consent in Estonia is 14, though this is under review following several recent and high-profile cases.

The defense that Helme had thought he was using a role-playing/computer game which involved an adult playing the role of a minor was also rejected by the court.

While defense counsel had sought a fine or similar, rather than a jail term, in suspended sentence, along with surveillance measures, the circuit court found the punishment issued by the county court to be justified. Helme was detained overnight during the initial investigation, in December 2019.

During his probationary period, Helme must engage in social programs.

Peeter Helme resigned as Postimees editor-in-chief on November 2 2019.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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