Ansip defends decision to close Mannil probe

  • 2006-01-11
  • From wire reports
TALLINN - Faced with harsh criticism from Israel, Prime Minister Andrus Ansip defended a prosecutor's decision to close the investigation into suspected Nazi collaborator Harry Mannil, calling it "unbiased." Both the Public Prosecutor's Office and security police, which investigated the wartime activities of Harry Mannil, a businessman of Estonian descent, agreed that there was not sufficient information to prove him guilty.

The decision angered the Simon Wiesenthal Center, an international Nazi-hunting organization and its Israel director, Efraim Zuroff.

The delicate issue was exacerbated when Estonian State Prosecutor Heino Tonismagi stated that, during the time of Mannil's alleged crimes, "Estonia was occupied 's those were the crimes of an occupying country," the Jerusalem Post reported last week.

After the news was announced, Tonismagi accused the Wiesenthal Center of targeting Mannil because he was "one of the most outstanding Estonians."

Zuroff responded to this by saying, "This [allegation] tries to delegitimize the effort to bring people like Mannil to justice."

In a statement issued on Jan. 9, Zuroff called the Mannil investigation "a pathetic whitewash for political reasons of an active Nazi collaborator who, thanks to the ineptitude and/or corruption of the Estonian prosecution, will apparently never be held accountable for his crimes."

On Dec. 30, the Estonian government closed its five-year investigation into Mannil. The Wiesenthal Center had identified Mannil as a member of the Estonian Political Police, which collaborated with the Nazis during World War II and was responsible for the persecution and murder of civilians in Tallinn in 1941.

Ansip defended Estonia's position.

"We have independent bodies of investigation, and I'm convinced that they have no information that would prove Mannil to be guilty," he told reporters on Jan. 5, adding that all persons guilty of crimes against humanity must be punished if proven guilty.

But Zuroff argued that the prosecutor's accusation that Mannil was intentionally targeted by the Wiesenthal Center proved that the Baltic state lacked the political will to prosecute a prominent Estonian. He further pointed out that Mannil, who currently lives in Venezuela, is barred from entering the United States due to his wartime activities.

The Wiesenthal Center made a point of reminding that Estonia has so far failed to convict a single Nazi war criminal since regaining independence. The Baltic state lacked "the political courage to face the practical implications of the active complicity of its nationals in Holocaust crimes," the organization said.

On Jan. 5 the Jerusalem Post reported that Israel had protested the prosecutor's decision to close the Mannil probe, adding that the matter was raised with Marina Kaljurand, Estonia's ambassador to Israel.

However, Estonia's Foreign Ministry denied the report, saying matters related to Harry Mannil were not touched upon during the ambassador's meetings at the Israeli ministry.

Kaljurand, who was recently on an official visit in Israel, had several meetings with representatives from the Israeli Foreign Ministry, a spokesperson for the Foreign Ministry told the Baltic News Service. The meetings dealt with bilateral and economic relations between Estonia and Israel, she said, adding that both parties found relations satisfactory.

"Matters related to Harry Mannil were not touched upon during the talks," the spokesperson told journalists. "Nor has Ambassador Kaljurand communicated with the Jerusalem Post. It is regrettable that such a respected newspaper as the Jerusalem Post is publishing information without first checking it with the direct source."

Meanwhile, Estonia's security police assert that there was no documentary evidence to Mannil's involvement in crimes against humanity during World War II, although it was proven that he worked for the German-controlled security police in the early 1940s and interrogated Jews. Neither did investigators find documents to show that he proposed the punishment of arrested or interrogated people or participate in commissions to decided the fate of such people.