Prime minister: Sarapuu family has right to 'defend own good name' in court

Prime Minister Jüri Ratas. Source: (ERR)

Prime Minister Jüri Ratas (Center) commented the decision on Thursday of his fellow party members in the Sarapuu family to demand damages and a public apology from opposition politicians, saying that anyone had the right to turn to a court to defend their rights in a state governed by the rule of law.

The Sarapuu family, including Center Party Riigikogu group chairwoman Kersti Sarapuu and former Tallinn deputy mayor Arvo Sarapuu, turned to Riigikogu members Jürgen Ligi (Reform) and Martin Helme (EKRE) with a demand of €50,000 to €100,000 to be paid in damages by each, and for them to run a public apology in at least two national papers at their own cost.

Both Ligi and Helme have rejected any notion of fault. Ligi said on Thursday that he is taking the family's demand for money as an attack on the opposition manifest in his person.

The Sarapuus argue that both Ligi and Helme slandered them in remarks made leading up to an unsuccessful vote of no confidence against Minister of Economic Affairs Kadri Simson (Center) in the Riigikogu on Jan. 10.

Ligi and Helme's remarks aimed at the government's plan to make bus transport free for people also in Estonia's rural municipalities, hinting that several people in the Center Party were working to give the Sarapuu family's transport companies a competitive advantage.

Arvo Sarapuu was arrested last year on suspicions of having interfered with city contracts concerning garbage and waste disposal. He later announced he is leaving politics.

While the Center Party's partners in the coalition, the Social Democrats and the Pro Patria and Res Publica Union (IRL), have called it "strange" that a political dispute should be taken to the legal level and be headed for a court trial, the prime minister said on Thursday that in a state governed by the rule of law such as Estonia, anyone had the right to take legal measures to defend themselves.

While Ratas said he recognizes the right of the family to "defend their own good name", there had been no coordination or vote of whatever kind on the matter within the Center Party.

For the coalition partners, Foreign Minister Sven Mikser (SDE) and Defence Minister Jüri Luik both said that it is at the very least unusual to take matters to court over something that was said in the Riigikogu, and that these disputes should better remain in parliament as well. At the same time, both agreed that the family has the right to do so if that is what they want.

Editor: Dario Cavegn

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