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Court rules interior ministry defamed reputation of former PPA director

Elmar Vaher.
Elmar Vaher. Source: Raivo Maripuu

A court has found that the good name and reputation of former Police and Border Guard Board (PPA) director Elmar Vaher was defamed, during procedures which declared him a suspect in an alleged job rotation scheme.

Vaher was detained last March after being declared a suspect in a scheme which would have seen top officials perform an on-paper stint with the PPA, in order to qualify for full pension rights.

In the first-tier administrative court's opinion, the Ministry of the Interior, in its summary of official supervision made available to the public at the beginning of the summer, provided an unjustified assessment, meaning one without any clearly substantive factual basis, that five individuals had been recruited into the PPA service on false pretences.

"Given these circumstances, the ministry has acted unlawfully," the court found.

The court also partly satisfied Vaher's complaint of defamation.

While the court did not, it appears from the decision, provide for damages to be paid to Vaher by way of compensation, it did order €3,641 in costs be paid to Vaher, by the interior ministry.

The Ministry of the Interior's statement, which had implied that the-then PPA chief had presided over an agency which concluded five sham employment contracts, had, in the court's opinion, tarnished the good name of Elmar Vaher as PPA director, of at the time these five persons were recruited into the police service, portal Delfi reports.

The case concerns the Erik Heldna, then head of the Tax and Customs Board's (MTA) customs department, plus four other senior officers, whose rotation into the PPA was considered by the Ministry of the Interior to be "the creation of an apparent service relationship" expressly for the purpose of qualifying for a full police pension.

The principle and practice in and of itself of top officials working a period of secondment by way of rotation was not called into question.

A surveillance audit was conducted after Vaher was detained in late March, when he was still PPA chief, on suspicion of aiding and abetting the alleged scam.

While the related criminal case has not yet reached the courts, Vaher appealed to the administrative court against the claim made by the Ministry of the Interior after its investigation, stating he believes that it defames his good name.

Vahur also requested compensation by way of damages.

The administrative court found that such an assessment, that the irregular hiring of these persons was "apparent," is unfounded, Delfi reports.

In order to assess whether a certain activity is apparent, taking into account the ordinary meaning of this word and also the meaning attributed to it in legislation, one should investigate what the real intent and purpose of the individuals involved had been, yet the Ministry of the Interior did not actually carry this out, Delfi reported the court decision as stating.

In the court's opinion, the assessment given in the summary of the service supervision of the Ministry of the Interior is unfounded, and, in giving it, the ministry has defamed the good name of the applicant.

The assessment also runs counter to the right the applicant had to the presumption of innocence prior to any guilt being proven.

"Under these circumstances, the ministry has acted unlawfully," the court found.

As noted, the court found that Vaher had been defamed, ordered the ministry pay €3,64 in costs, but stopped short of issuing damages to Vaher.

Minister of the Interior Lauri Läänemets initiated disciplinary proceedings at the PPA and the Internal Security Service (ISS) in March after ISS operatives had detained Eerik Heldna, head of the Tax and Customs Board's (MTA) customs department, on suspicions of fraud, along Elmar Vaher on suspicion of being an accessory to fraud.

According to these suspicions, Heldna was fictitiously enrolled as an employee at the PPA so he would qualify for a police officer's special pension, with help from Vaher. As noted four others were allegedly involved.

In summer a court overruled Vaher's dismissal from his post – which he had shortly been due to finish – as a result of the allegations, had been wrong and ordered remuneration which he did not receive as a result of the dismissal be furnished to him.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte, Mait Ots

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