TALLINN - A report that two of the president's grandchildren were holding liquor-filled parties at Kadriorg Palace has sparked a major scandal in Estonia, leading to a lengthy apology by the president and the resignation of the head of his secret service.
The story broke on Jan. 18, when the weekly Pealtnagija (Eyewitness) TV show reported that President Arnold Ruutel's two granddaughters, Maria (13) and Helena (15) threw several parties at the famous Kadriorg Palace during their grandfather's absence. The girls live with their grandparents, Arnold and Ingrid Ruutel.
The parties have been taking place since last October, and the report claimed the guests moved about the president's premises freely. Many of the minors consumed alcohol, including bottles found on the palace premises.
Ain Lepikult, police director of the security department of Estonia's Personal Protection Police, submitted his resignation on Jan. 24.
National Police Chief Raivo Aeg approved the request. "As the person in charge of the respective field, he feels this is his moral responsibility," Aeg said.
Lepikult said in a statement last week that the security service protects the president, guards his office and apartment, but does not interfere in the president's private life or the presence of private guests in the president's apartment.
He said the get-togethers at the Kadriorg residence never breached the president's security and any attempt to create an impression to the contrary was regrettable.
In the meantime, President Ruutel and his wife published an open apology about their granddaughters' behavior. They stressed that no state secrets were jeopardized as a result of the parties, a claim that the Pealtnagija program tried to assert.
The Ruutels asserted that the door of the president's residence did not have a combination lock, despite TV claims that the partygoers entered through this door after setting the code. The couple also denied claims that the national flag on the roof was desecrated, and that parties were held in the hall of the State Council.
They did admit, however, that the parties had grown out of control. Reports claimed that the teenagers climbed onto the roof of the palace, where they urinated and tossed cigarette butts to the ground below.
"Prior to this incident, schoolmates and friends [our granddaughters'] own age had visited our grandchildren, but these were ordinary get-togethers of young people where nothing that should be condemned took place. We have always allowed our grandchildren to invite their peers over and this has never resulted in any problems," Arnold and Ingrid Ruutel said.
"We know today that our grandchildren were taken aback by the parties, which had gotten out-of-hand, and no more of them were held," the couple said.
The Ruutels said they learned about the true nature of the parties on Jan. 12, when a host of the Pealtnagija show contacted a presidential spokesman. They said they had held an in-depth discussion with their grandchildren.
"They understand what they have done wrong and regret it. This is a difficult lesson, and we hope that it won't accompany them during their whole life," the president and his wife said, thanking everybody who had shown understanding and tact and offered words of support at this difficult moment.
The day after the report broke, Maris Leif, daughter of the president, said that she sent her daughters to live with her parents in Kadriorg because of economic hardship.
Leif, a graduate from the Estonian Academy of Arts, told TV3 television that she sent Helena and Maria to live with their grandparents in the hope of ensuring a better upbringing. She said she did not have the material resources to bring up her children.
Contact with her daughters was seldom, the mother added, hinting that she knew nothing about their problems.