Centre Party expels 14 with criminal records

Prime Minister and Centre Party leader Jüri Ratas speaking to ERR at the party conference on Saturday.
Prime Minister and Centre Party leader Jüri Ratas speaking to ERR at the party conference on Saturday. Source: Anna Aurelia Minev/ERR

The ruling coalition Centre Party has expelled 14 people due to criminal records, it is reported.

Prime Minister and party leader Jüri Ratas, speaking at the party's pre-election conference on Saturday, said that the records had not been expunged, meaning they were unfit for party membership.

"None of our voters or members wants to read in the newspapers that various criminals have sneaked into their party. Therefore, we decided at the meeting this morning to exclude from the party 14 persons who have a non-expunged criminal penalty," he said.

Mr Ratas added that lessons could be learned from this and other past activities that the party has engaged in, causing it financial and other issues even as it is in office.

"The Centre Party has had to pay a heavy price, and we even had to sell our long-time head office to repay debts. We all have to learn from the party's controversial past," he announced.

Centre's debts were reported in October 2018 to be around €400,000, though this was less than half the figure prior to the sale of the party's old town office premises. By comparison, the Reform Party had reported debts of around €200,000, the Social Democratic Party (SDE) a little over €100,000, while the Isamaa/Pro Patria, Free and Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE) parties had no reported debts to their name at that time.

Party co-founder Edgar Savisaar, a former Tallinn mayor, has stood trial on corruption charges in which the party itself was a co-defendant. After being passed up the Estonian judicial system, from county court, to circuit court to the supreme court, the case was disbanded due to Mr Savisaar's continued health issues.

Further issues dogging the party include a requirement that it repay close to quarter of a million Euros to the electoral commission, after money moved into the party's account was deemed to be a donation, in one lump sum and not in installments. The party has also requested an extension in reporting its Q4 2018 finances. Most of the major or represented parties met the deadline.

Election success can't be taken for granted

Mr Ratas said during his Saturday presentation that with 50 days left until the elections, his party has to hold itself to a high standard and not make any mistakes, since electoral victory was not a give.

"We deserve to win the elections only if we are more hard-working than everyone else and capable of convincing the society that it is the Centre Party which offers the best future for Estonia," he continued.

Despite the expulsions, local newspaper Põhjarannik has reported that Fjodor Ovsjannikov, former Narva city council member, continues to be a member of the Centre Party despite a criminal conviction to his name.

In August 2018, a bloc of Narva city councillors and Centre members were asked by Mr Ratas to stand down whilst alleged corruption investigations were pursued. The bulk of the group and its supporters ignored the demand, instead quitting the party wholesale and forming its own grouping, ''Our home, Narva'' (Estonian: Meie kodu Narva). Mr Ovsjannikov was reportedly one exception to this defection and continues as a Centre member. A Riigikogu member, Olga Ivanova, also quit the party on the issue and currently sits in parliament as an independent.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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