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ERJK: Varro Vooglaid must return forbidden donation to SAPTK

Varro Vooglaid.
Varro Vooglaid. Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

A Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE) MP has been ordered to return funds to a conservative NGO in Estonia, on the grounds that the funds constituted an illicit party donation.

The Political Parties Financing Surveillance Committee (ERJK) has issued a precept to Riigikogu MP Varro Vooglaid connected to the Foundation for the Protection of the Family and Tradition (SAPTK), which he also heads up.

The funds concern costs in producing SAPTK campaigning literature but which, the ERJK says, could potentially have benefited at the polls Vooglaid and one other ERKE candidate named in the material.

Head of the ERJK Liisa Oviir (SDE) said that as a legal entity, SAPTK campaigning on behalf of two EKRE candidates (Vooglaid and Markus Järvi) constituted an illicit donation, given that both individuals were running in the March 2023 election.

"As a result of this, we treated it as a donation from SAPTK, to two candidates," Oviir said.

"Under Estonian law, any donation by a legal entity is prohibited. Our precept states that Varro Vooglaid and Markus Järvi must return the forbidden donation, to SAPTK," she continued.

Oviir told ERR that following the Riigikogu elections last year, the committee had obtained several statements claiming that SAPTK had engaged in direct mail canvassing in various regions of Estonia, including the distribution of flyers focused on issues at the upcoming election.

These flyers urged recipients not to vote for named parties, instead of a positive call to action.

Oviir said that the reasons for not voting for or supporting the parties in question included alleged attacks on the family, and marriage, as institutions, by those parties.

The flyers contained Vooglaid and Järvi's signatures, ie. the two Riigikogu candidates.

Vooglaid pledges to take matter to court

Varro Vooglaid said the ERJK's activities here represent an illegal operation aimed at persecution, and pledged to take the matter to court.

"The allegation they have made is completely ridiculous, and completely unfounded," he said.

Vooglaid said that SAPTK had "always" engaged in such pre-election campaigning, regardless of whether he and/or Järvi were running, adding that the campaign materials were distributed in electoral districts other than those they ran in.

He also said that no party or candidate was mentioned in the campaign, and that the information did not constitute electoral advertising (per statements in the material itself).

Vooglaid and Järvi were standing up for their statutory goals, he added.

Recipients of the campaign materials were informed that: "If they don't want [the legalization of] so-called gay marriage, and hate speech to be criminalized, in Estonia, then don't vote for the Reform Party, SDE and Eesti 200," Vooglaid said.

Liisa Oviir noted the difference of opinion in that, whereas Vooglaid says that he appeared in the SAPTK literature as himself, and as a representative of the organization, and not as a Riigikogu candidate, the ERJK's view is that once someone is a declared candidate at an election, they are covered as such by the relevant sections of the Political Parties Act and under the oversight of the ERJK.

Oviir also said that, as a lawyer herself, every individual has every right to recourse to the courts, while there are also "points in the law that should be specified more precisely."

A court ruling would help with this clarification, she said.

Varro Vooglaid, who won a seat running with EKRE last March, has 30 days in which to comply with the ERJK precept to return the SAPTK funds.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte, Aleksander Krjukov

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