The Police and Border Guard Board (PPA) is investigating a case of alleged vote buying in the eastern Estonian town of Narva. The suspect allegedly organized a free day trip for around forty potential voters, told them to bring their ID card with them and provided a laptop computer for them to then vote for him, while the incident has meant a coalition deal in Narva due for signing today, Tuesday, has been paused for the time being.
The PPA has detained Sergei, 43, on suspicions of violating the freedom of an election, in addition to investigating another individual, Natalia, 66, as a potential accomplice.
While under Estonian law the PPA and prosecutor's office are unable to disclose the full names of suspects in criminal investigations, ERR's online news in Estonian reports that National Electoral Committee (VVK) data shows Sergei Gorlatš, born 1978, ran for the municipality on an electoral list headed by Katri Raik.
Gorlatš is a former deputy mayor; Raik was returned as Narva mayor, a post she had previously held with the Social Democratic Party.
Preliminary PPA data says that around 40 Narva residents were offered an excursion during election week, October 11-17, including spa visit, picnic, guided walk and transport, all finance and organized by the suspect and without the knowledge of the electoral alliance.
Attendees were told to bring their ID card and PIN codes, with a laptop provided for them to then vote, which around half the participants did, it is reported.
Those who were unable to vote electronically for whatever reason were instructed to vote in person at a polling station.
While e-votes can be superseded by the voter – and the case is an example of why this is required – either subsequently online or at a polling station on election day, final votes cast on polling day obviously cannot.
Ats Kübarsepp, the head of the PPA's corruption bureau, told ERR his authority had been actively collecting information on potential fraud both before and during the elections, while the PPA also received tip-offs.
Viru District prosecutor Alan Rüütel said that a violation of the freedom to vote is constituted by any promise of any benefit, not only a financial one, provided that the person casts his or her vote in favor of the desired candidate or refuses to participate in an election.
Free entry to the spa, for instance, constituted a benefit, he said.
Raik: If suspicions prove true, Gorlatš must quit council
Katri Raik told ERR's Russian-language portal that if the investigation reveals that Gorlatš is guilty of vote-buying then he must resign his council seat. "If the suspicions are confirmed, then, of course, he must leave the city council and resign his mandate. He will be replaced by the next candidate from the [electoral alliance] list," Raik said.
Raik and the electoral alliance she heads up had been due to sign a coalition deal with Eesti 200 to head up the municipality for the next four years, but Gorlatš' detention has put this on hold.
Denis Lartšenko, a leading member of Eesti 200 in Narva, said that the incident also means pre-election points concerning corruption are in need of review, while the party's representatives are set to meet with Raik Tuesday evening.
The final, official local election results will be announced around mid-November, once complaints and other issues have been resolved.
This article was updated to include comments from Katri Raik and Denis Lartšenko.
Editor: Andrew Whyte