EKRE IT minister candidate driving offences no biggie, says party leader

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EKRE leader Mart Helme at the Kadriorg Palace on Tuesday.
EKRE leader Mart Helme at the Kadriorg Palace on Tuesday. Source: Siim Lõvi/ERR

Mart Helme, chair of the Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE), has said that recent revelations about one of his party's proposed ministerial candidates being apprehended by the police for speeding, and with trace alcohol in his system, need not jeopardise his position.

Marti Kuusik was stopped by Police and Border Guard Board (PPA) personnel on the morning of 4 March, following the general election of the night before. Mr Kuusik had admitted in an interview to ERR's Toomas Sildam that he had traces of alcohol in his system, as revealed by a PPA breath test. He did not, as the interview was reported, mention that the PPA had already pulled him over, in the Lääne Viru County town of Rakvere, for exceeding the speed limit by over 20 km/h.

"This is a such a borderline thing, after all; the police did not impose any other sanctions than a warning and sending him on a so-called course, he was not yet a ministerial candidate at the time, and he had no idea that he could become a ministerial candidate," Mr Helme told daily Postimees, adding that Mr Kuusik's name only emerged as a potential ministerial candidate in the final stages of the Centre Party/EKRE/Isamaa coalition talks which ran through the second half of March, into early April.

Mr Kuusik is the provisional IT minister in the incoming coalition.

Mr Helme added that Mr Kuusik had already admitted the incident to him earlier.

"He said that if we think that this is the kind of issue that should rule out him becoming a ministerial candidate, then he would naturally accept our stance, but we discussed the matter and came to the conclusion that this should not be parlayed into such a serious issue that we should write him off," Mr Helme said.

"After all, he has received his penalty, and the PPA punishment has been mild, thus the police did not consider it that dangerous a situation," he continued.

Mr Helme added that in his meeting with President Kersti Kaljulaid, which lasted for more than an hour, the two discussed several different issues, including the Ministry of the Interior, the PPA and the Rescue Board (Päästeamet). Mr Helme is the coalition's interior minister candidate.

"We also talked about the 'deep state' - discussed whether this is interfering in politics, and were in accord that clarity must be achieved in this matter," he went on.

The president has been in the process of meeting all the incoming coalition ministers one-by-one, since the beginning of the week.

According to the Highways Authority (Maanteeamet) site, it is forbidden to drive or ride any vehicle (including a bicycle) on Estonian roads with any alcohol in the system.

Whether those apprehended by the PPA with alcohol in their system will be charged with a misdemeanor offence, or a criminal offence, naturally depends on the limit of alcohol in their blood.

A misdemeanor offence occurs from 02.mg per litre in the blood, it is reported, with criminal intoxication starting at 1.5mg per litre.

Fines of €180-€380, suspension of a licence, or in more serious cases, imprisonment and heavier fines, are all potential penalties, with mitigating circumstances including if a driver concedes that he or she had been drinking and/or agrees to attend a PPA-organised course. Mr Kuusik had reportedly met these conditions and so no fine or imprisonment was imposed.

President concurs no grounds for dismissal

At a press conference on Tuesday afternoon, President Kersti Kaljulaid concurred that the incident was not grounds for removal of Mr Kuusik from the ministerial post. The president was announcing she was to formally give the go-ahead to the Centre/EKRE/Isamaa coalition on Wednesday.

Editor: Andrew Whyte

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