TALLINN - Estonian politicians have stepped up their campaign to discredit Rene van der Linden, president of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, for his controversial comments about human rights issues concerning Russian-speaking residents.
The high-ranking European politician has been indirectly accused of lying to the media, distributing incorrect information, and not declaring his financial interests to the parliamentary assembly.
The most recent charge against van der Linden came on Oct. 8, when he was again accused of having financial connections to Russian companies, something he has repeatedly denied.
Marko Mihkelson, the chairman of the European Affairs Committee of the Estonian Parliament, held a press conference to release a dossier of information about van der Linden's alleged Russian investments.
"The purpose of my press conference was to release this information, which is public anyway, so that everybody can make their own decisions about whether there is a possible conflict of interest," said Mihkelson, a member of the ruling right-wing party IRL and a former chairman of the Estonian delegation to PACE.
"The possibility of a conflict is quite visible."
He suggested that van der Linden may have breached PACE Resolution No. 1554, which requires parliamentary members to disclose any conflicts of interest.
The dossier contained press clippings from Russian media sources in which van der Linden is repeatedly named and quoted as the head of the supervisory council of Noble House Holding, a company that invested an estimated 100 million euros into a technology business park in Sobinsk, Russia.
Mihkelson also aired a video showing van der Linden at the opening ceremony of the business park.
For his part, van der Linden has again asserted that he has no such financial dealings. In a statement issued on Oct. 8, he said is not a member of any supervisory or other board of a company with economic interests in Russia.
"I would therefore urge Mr. Mihkelson to stop this slandering," van der Linden said.
Van der Linden is just the latest in a string of international observers to criticize Estonia over its Russian-speaking population. But the PACE president became a target of criticism himself after he wrongly claimed that non-citizens in Estonia had no electoral voice 's they are, in fact, entitled to vote in municipal elections.
That led the speaker of Estonia's parliament, IRL member Ene Ergma, to fire off an indignant letter to van der Linden which suggested he was not fit to hold his office.
Others in Estonia have joined the chorus against the PACE president.
The Baltic Times asked Mihkelson if, through his campaign against van der Linden, he was attempting to scare off other international observers from scrutinizing Estonia's integration policies.
Mihkelson welcomed the question, and said Estonia was a democratic country that welcomed international observers.
"We are open to scrutiny. But here I don't see any connection to the issues of integration. Those issues are very important for usâ€¦ But if there is some sort of misleading information used, or lies, then of course there is a need to correct the position," Mihkelson said.