• 2001-09-27
OPIUM TRIAL: The trial of William Hain, 42, a British citizen arrested for opium smuggling September 2000, began on Sept. 24 in Tallinn. Hain pleaded guilty and revealed the masterplan he said he had been dragged into. He said he was the first courier to be used by Leslie Brown and Robert Wright - both from Scotland and under arrest in Glasgow and Tallinn respectively - who planned to open a drug corridor from Asia to Britain via Estonia. He told the court Brown and Wright offered him 20,000 British pounds ($43,480) for the job. "I wanted the money for an operation, and to pay a debt hampering my business in Scotland," said Hain, an amputee with one leg. After a joint operation by Scottish and Estonian police, Hain was caught last September attempting to smuggle 20 kilograms of opium with a street value of 1.1 million kroons ($64,700) through Tallinn's passenger port in the fuel tank of his car. The size of the haul was a record in Estonia. Hain faces up to eight years in jail.

SNATCH: A bag containing various currencies worth $380,000 disappeared from the cargo depot at Tallinn Airport on Sept. 25. The money, belonging to the Estonian currency exchange firm Tavid, had been part of the cargo of a plane which arrived from Copenhagen at 10:15 a.m. An investigation is being conducted by officers of the central criminal police, who have identified an initial circle of suspects. Tavid's manager Kuno Raak said the missing bag mostly contained German marks, but also Cypriot pounds, Polish zloty, Greek drahms and Spanish pesetas. The consignment was insured. Raak said the theft had been committed in the customs area of Tallinn airport. He declined to name any of the suspects. The airport's marketing director, Sven Ratassepp, said the disappearance of the cash was above all related to the airline, Estonian Air, aboard whose plane the bag was delivered to Tallinn.

EVER CLOSER: Viktor Cherkasov, President Vladimir Putin's representative in northwestern Russia, on Sept. 24 outlined his vision of how Russian parts of the Baltic Sea region would be affected by the enlargement of the European Union to include Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland, reported the Russian news agency ITAR-TASS. Speaking at the Baltic Development Forum which began in St. Petersburg on Sept. 21, Cherkasov said: "Our country is interested in building a closer relationship with the Baltic Sea states. It seeks closer economic and political cooperation with the EU." Russia wanted to become more closely involved in EU institutions and mechanisms related to economic and political cooperation in the Baltic Sea region, he said. Such involvement, he said, would benefit both Russia and the EU.

STRIKE SOFTLY: A public opinion poll published this week showed relatively low support among Balts for the idea of the United States retaliating militarily for this month's terrorist strikes in New York and Washington. Around 21 percent of Latvians, 15 percent of Lithuanians and 10 percent of Estonians feel the United States should stage a military attack against countries harboring terrorists. That view was shared by an average of 14.73 percent of respondents in the 30 countries where Gallup International conducted the poll, including seven Central and Eastern European countries. In Estonia, 87 percent of respondents thought the United States should try to extradite those responsible for the attacks and put them on trial. In Lithuania 83 percent felt the same way, while in Latvia the proportion was 64 percent. Of all the countries surveyed, Estonia, at 88 percent, had the highest number of respondents who believed the United States should confine itself to hitting terrorist groups. In Latvia 82 percent felt the same way, while the number in Lithuania was 73 percent.

UNWANTED: A member of Lithuania's Social Democratic coalition faction, Nikolajus Medvedevas, has suggested tightening up the laws regulating the residence of foreigners in Lithuania. In the amendments registered at the Seimas (Lithuania's parliament) secretariat last week, Medvedevas suggests that the maximum fine for violating procedures for entering, living in, or transiting through Lithuania be raised from 500 litas ($125) to 1,000 litas, in cases where the violation does not warrant deportation. "The sanctions should be tightened because, according to data from the Interior Ministry's migration department, foreigners living in Lithuania persistently violate the law on (their) legal status," Medvedevas said. Increased attention to foreigners living in Lithuania - mostly refugees from Russia and Asian countries - was noticed in Lithuania in the wake of the recent terrorist attacks in the United States. About 90 foreigners detained for illegally entering Lithuania currently live in the Illegal Immigrants Registration Center in Pabrade, northeast of Vilnius.

TIMING: A representative of the royal family of the United Arab Emirates promised during a visit to Lithuania that scholarships would be made available to students from the Baltic states wanting to learn Arabic. United Arab Emirates' Science and Education Minister Nahayan bin Moubarak Al Nahayan started his private visit to Lithuania on Sept. 23 and met President Valdas Adamkus later that day. During the meeting, Adamkus mentioned the low number of speakers of Arabic in Lithuania and said that developing international economic relations would encourage more young Lithuanians to study Arabic language and culture. The sheik noted that the United Arab Emirates were willing to facilitate such studies. "Language and culture help to build bridges between nations and improve understanding, which is very important in today's world," he said. He added that he expected a delegation of Arabian businessmen to visit Lithuania in the near future.