Paper: Rainer Vakra plagiarised bachelor's thesis

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MP Rainer Vakra (SDE).
MP Rainer Vakra (SDE). Source: Siim Lõvi/ERR

Leading Social Democratic Party (SDE) politician Rainer Vakra plagiarised reports by Säästva Eesti Instituut (SEI) in his bachelor's thesis as well as presented research conducted by another student as his own, reported investigative weekly Eesti Ekspress. Mr Vakra has denied any such deceit.

Much of Mr Vakra's bachelor's thesis, entitled "The implementation of the packaging and packaging waste collection and recycling system in Tartu," following the defence of which he graduated with a bachelor's degree in environmental management from Tallinn University (TLÜ) in 2002, was simply copy-pasted from the SEI report entitled "The implementation of the packaging and packaging waste collection and recycling system in Estonia" published that same year, Eesti Ekspress discovered.

The introductory section of his thesis, which includes background information, was in turn largely copied from another SEI report that was published around the same time. According to a comparison by the weekly paper, pages of the SEI report at a time were reproduced in their entirety by the dozen in Mr Vakra's thesis — including the same text, same headers, same outline, same subheaders, same underlined parts, same highlighted parts, same graphics, and even the same typographical errors.

The project manager for SEI (which now goes by the name of Stockholm Environment Institute Tallinn, or SEI Tallinn), who was also responsible for compiling the report in question, was Harri Moora, one of Estonia's top environmental experts. Mr Moora confirmed that Mr Vakra had no connection whatsoever to the report, and that he did not even know Mr Vakra at the time.

The central part of the third chapter of Mr Vakra's bachelor's thesis, however, consists of a survey of Tartu city residents which he claimed to have drawn up and conducted himself, but whose actual author was Keiu Ruus-Lepp, a student of the University of Tartu Türi College who was a contract partner of SEI. Ms Ruus-Lepp likewise told the paper that she does not know Mr Vakra personally and that he was in no way connected to her own thesis.

Mr Vakra first tried to defend himself by saying that he participated in the SEI project as an intern, which Mr Moora has denied, and that the survey conducted in Tartu was his own, but then switched to explaining that he worked in parallel with Harri Moora and happened to reach the same conclusions. The politician categorically denied any plagiarism in his bachelor's thesis.

TLÜ told Eesti Ekspress that they have a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to theses, meaning that if plagiarism is discovered, the university initiates the exmatriculation of the student in question, and should it be confirmed that Rainer Vakra's bachelor's thesis was plagiarised, he may be stripped of his degree.

SDE board to wait for university ruling

"The leadership of the SDE met with [party board member] Rainer Vakra on Wednesday to talk about the allegations published in the paper Eesti Ekspress," SDE spokesperson Madle Lippus told ERR on Wednesday. "Vakra maintained his position, which he also explained in a social media post published before noon."

According to the spokesperson, the party will not adopt a position on the matter until they have received more information about the situation.

"These are very serious allegations," Ms Lippus said. "All the more we want to receive clarification regarding them from Tallinn University before stating our position. As we ourselves have not yet seen these documents, it is difficult to provide our assessment. We will await clarification and adopt a position based on the decision that is made."

Mr Vakra has been a good politician and an esteemed chairman of the Environment Committee of the Riigikogu, the spokesperson noted. "Let's hope that this matter is cleared up as quickly as possible," she added.

As of noon Wednesday, ERR had been unable to reach members of the SDE leadership for comment.

Mr Vakra is currently serving as MP and running for re-election to the Riigikogu as SDE's top candidate for the Mustamäe-Nõmme electoral district in the 3 March elections.


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Editor: Aili Vahtla

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