Minister explains why 'so many' repeat offenders granted citizenship

Lauri Läänemets, Kaja Kallas and Helir-Valdor Seeder at the signing of the coalition agreement in 2022.
Lauri Läänemets, Kaja Kallas and Helir-Valdor Seeder at the signing of the coalition agreement in 2022. Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

Interior Minister Lauri Läänemets (SDE) said the number of people with at least two criminal convictions who were exceptionally granted Estonian citizenship this year has increased due to the number of applications piled up in the previous government due to Isamaa's opposition. These applications are now being granted retroactively.

In a press release this week, Riigikogu Isamaa parliamentary group chair Helir-Valdor Seeder noted that Kaja Kallas' third government has granted Estonian citizenship to more than 30 people with two and more criminal convictions in six months.

"In half a year, more exemptions have been made than several previous governments in their entire time in office," Seeder said.

Seeder recalled that the possibility of granting citizenship to people who have been repeatedly convicted of a criminal offense by a special government decision was introduced into Estonian legislation in 2006 as a decision of the coalition of Reform, Center and EKRE.

"Kaja Kallas, as prime minister, has been particularly active in using this opportunity in – her first government made a total of 25 exceptions, however, the second, due to Isamaa's opposition, none," Seeder said.

"Now, however, the exemption has reached epidemic proportions, with more than 30 repeat offenders becoming Estonian citizens in six months. And in the past, the government's decision was always truly exceptional, with the number of rejected applications exceeding the number of exceptions many times over. Now the situation is reversed: what is exceptional is when a decision is made to deny citizenship," Seeder said.

Seeder said that there is a risk that this trend will continue, as the coalition on Wednesday rejected the bill that would have ended the granting of citizenship to people with repeated criminal convictions.

Läänemets: the fewer Russian citizens the better

Interior Minister Lauri Läänemets (SDE) told ERR that the government will continue with the citizenship procedure after a year of Isamaa's opposition to it in the government.

"There was an agreement reached within the government regarding the conditions based on which citizenship would be granted to these people and Isamaa was one of the parties involved; however, Isamaa then said during the previous administration that they did not want to grant citizenship, so the procedure was withheld for a year," the interior minister explained.

"Since no citizenship was granted for a year in the meantime, the numbers are higher than usual. The citizenship applications that have been on hold for a year have been finalized this year," Läänemets said.

Läänemets said the government's policy is aimed at getting people living here to renounce their Russian citizenship. "The fewer Russian citizens living in Estonia, the better," he added.

Läänemets said that these crimes committed by people with criminal records were mostly committed in adolescence and that they changed their behavior in adulthood.

"These are people who committed crimes for which they were punished when they were young. Whether they were 16, 18 or 22 years old, In all cases, it is noticeable that once they have left this adolescence and usually have started a family, they no longer have any convictions," Läänemets said, adding that 10 years must have passed since the last offense before a person can be granted citizenship.

Helir-Valdor Seeder (Isamaa) and Lauri Läänemets (SDE) at the Opinion Festival in Paide on Saturday, August 13, 2022. Source: Ken Mürk/ERR


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Editor: Aleksander Krjukov, Kristina Kersa

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