Former Postimees editor sexual enticement of minor ruling enters into force

Peeter Helme in court on November 30, 2020.
Peeter Helme in court on November 30, 2020. Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

The conviction of journalist Peeter Helme for attempted sexual enticement of a minor came into force Tuesday, after the Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal from his lawyer.

The Supreme Court declined to hear the appeal from Raul Ainla, sworn advocate representing Helme, meaning a decision from second-tier Tallinn Circuit Court from June 10 entered into force. This in turn leaves the original first-tier Harju County Court ruling unchanged.

In June, the circuit court overruled Raul Ainla's appeal on behalf of his client, and left unchanged the suspended sentence imposed on Helme of one year, three months and 28 days in prison with a two-year probation period, with a two-year probation period. 

The court ordered Helme to comply with monitoring requirements during the probationary period, including participation in a social program aimed at further preventing any offenses he was charged with.

The circuit court agreed with the reasons and conclusions of the county court's decision, finding, inter alia, that the county court had correctly established that Helme had acted with deliberate intent in creating interest in the sexual life of a minor.

The defense counsel pointed out in court that Helme had stated he interacted with an adult, who used the username "Marleen12", online, and could not therefore think that he was in fact playing a role play with a child.

The courts disagreed with this allegation and concluded that the defendant's allegations concerning the correspondent's youth or age were not reliable as evidence.

"Marleen12" was in fact an account utilized by a police operative.

The unreliability of Helme's statements were also clearly confirmed by conversations contained in the records of the surveillance operation, presented as evidence at the court hearing.

The fact that the accused himself used his actual age in his username also had to assume that a 12-year-old girl was mentioned in the conversation under the username "Marleen12".

According to the court, this was clearly proven by the opening online conversation initiated by Helme, in which the accused was the first to ask what had brought such a young girl here. 

This meant that, according to the court, Helme had a conscious and intentional wish to communicate with a person under 14 years of age – the age of consent in Estonia.

While the county court found the defendant's testimony to be unreliable as evidence, and did not take it into account in drafting the judgment, the circuit court further noted that none of the evidence assessed in court confirmed Helme's defense of a role-playing / computer game in which he considered another adult his interlocutor.

Furthermore, in response to a question from the court, the accused reportedly could not reference any computer games in which interlocutors would communicate on sexual issues in that way.

In its appeal, the defense counsel also argued that since no references to material depicting minors in an erotic or pornographic situation were found within the media stored by the accused, this was proof of Helme's unwillingness to entice a conversation partner towards sexual activity. 

The court did not accept this argument, saying it was a speculative position. "The lack of material referring to child pornography on the accused's media does not negate P. Helme's culpability in sexual solicitation of a minor, and does not confirm the defense counsel's account of the accused's lack of any sexual interest in a minor," the circuit court stated, BNS reports.

The district court also noted that none of the conversations recorded in the surveillance report demonstrated that the police operative who had taken part in the conversation under the username "Marleen12" had provoked Helmet into talking about sexual issues. 

It was clear from the conversations recorded in the surveillance report that conversations on sexual issues with a minor were always initiated by Helme, and not by a police agent.

The initiation of a criminal case provided the legal basis for this involvement of a police agent. This meant that the police agent's activities were not aimed at provoking Helme to commit a crime qualifying under section 179 (1) of the Penal Code, but at verifying information received by the police in 2019, concerning the alleged exchange of conversations and files of a sexual nature, with minors aged under 14, in online environments.

On appeal, the defense counsel also challenged the sentence imposed on Helme, finding that the sentence of conditional imprisonment together with the application of surveillance requirements was not justified, and requested the application of a lighter sentence or fine. Alternatively, counsel sought the imposition of a custodial sentence without review. 

However, in the opinion of the court, any fine imposed on Peeter Helme would not fulfill the purposes of a penalty, hence the need to impose a jail sentence.

The materials from the criminal case also show that, throughout the court proceedings, Helme had justified his own actions, and has not demonstrated an awareness that any sexual interest in children caused by him jeopardizes the normal mental and sexual development of the child.

As a result, the circuit court did not consider it viable to lessen the sentence imposed on Helme to a level slightly below the average sanction. 

The court found that it was justified that the accused could be granted parole, by placing him under the supervision of a probation officer, for a probationary period. 

According to the court, both this supervision by the probation officer and the obligation to participate in a social program during the period, in which the counsel does not really doubt the need to participate, are undoubtedly necessary to prevent any further action of Helme in the charges against him, or the further commission of any offense of the same type.

In December 2019, the Police and Border Guard Board briefly detained Helme, 42, former editor-in-chief at daily Postimees, but the prosecutor's office did not consider it necessary to apply for an arrest warrant.

Following the conclusion of the investigation, Helme was charged with the online sexual enticement over the period 8-10 October of 2019, in communications with "Marleen12" via an online site entitled  "Armastuse saal".


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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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