Top official sacked after arrest

  • 2002-07-25
  • Sara Toth

The Estonian government at its Cabinet meeting July 23 fired Foreign Ministry Chancellor Indrek Tarand, the ministry's highest ranking non-elected official, citing the "indecency" of his behavior toward Foreign Minister Kristiina Ojuland and a drunk driving charge.

Ojuland requested that the government fire Tarand because, while under the influence of alcohol, he yelled at her after a speech she made July 10 at a conference in rural Estonia.

He reportedly was upset that her speech was more about personal issues than comments directed at the diplomats she was addressing.

Tarand was caught driving drunk by police in Tallinn early July 12 as he arrived home from Latvia, where Estonian and Latvian delegates traditionally meet in the summer. A majority of Cabinet members determined that these actions violated the clause against "indecent behavior" in Estonia's Public Service Act, said Daniel Vaarik, head of the government's press office.

Tarand was unavailable for comment. Tarand was Estonia's longest-serving permanent undersecretary, sitting in his post since Feb. 23, 1994. His dismissal also marks the first time a high-ranking government official has been fired for indecent behavior since Estonia restored independence in 1991, Vaarik said. In 1999, Uno Veering, a state secretary, resigned after he was caught driving drunk."It's a pity my eight- and-a-half years of work with the Foreign Ministry ended in such a regrettable manner," Tarand said.

A spokeswoman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said it was too early to determine how the removal of Tarand would affect the ministry. But his absence will require an adjustment, she said.

"Tarand was in charge of the ministry basically because the minister is basically just political," said Foreign Ministry press secretary Anneli Kimber. "But we haven't decided or discussed any new candidates yet."

Vice Chancellor Alar Strei-mann will temporarily replace Tarand. Streimann is Estonia's chief negotiator in membership talks with the European Union.

Vaarik said the conflict had been ongoing for several years between Ojuland and Tarand, so the chancellor's discharge probably will not interfere with the operation of the overall government.

Ojuland, 35, is Estonia's first female foreign minister. She was appointed to the post seven months ago.

According to some press reports, the tension between Ojuland and Tarand goes back almost 10 years, when Ojuland was a rank-and-file official in the Foreign Ministry who reported to Tarand. Tarand then fired Ojuland, who later won her job back in court.

"The only problematic part is possible court litigation," Vaarik said. Kimber and Vaarik said they didn't know whether Tarand would appeal the decision in court.

Tarand said July 23 he was considering protesting the government's decision.

"I will consult lawyers in the next few days to discuss the legality of the government's decision," BNS quoted him as saying.

Ojuland told reporters she was not afraid of any legal action from him. "We are guided by the law, and I can see no legal problem."

Cabinet members met for one hour to discuss Ojuland's request to dismiss Tarand, Vaarik said.

"The whole thing was quite calm," Vaarik said.

During this session Tarand gave a five-minute speech, addressing his encounter at the conference with Ojuland and his drunk-driving charge. According to earlier press reports, the minister accused the chancellor of using vulgar language toward her.

Ojuland said he waved his arms at her but did not hit her. The altercation between Ojuland and Tarand lasted for about 15 minutes until the leaders of the Foreign Ministry were separated by Estonian Ambassador to Finland Matti Maasikas.

"Tarand did not admit it was definitely indecent behavior," Vaarik said. Tarand explained that he got worked up, but it was too subjective to label it indecent because the incident occurred outside the workplace.

In this speech, Tarand also apologized for the July 12 drunk driving and admitted he also drove while intoxicated earlier that night while crossing a border check point from Latvia to Estonia. Last week he said he only drove his car while drunk after arriving in Tallinn from the conference.