Central criminal police suspect Valga Centrist of vote-buying

The police on Tuesday detained Valga politician Allain Karuse (Center Party) and another six persons suspected of buying votes at local government council elections. Karuse and a limited company he has ties to also stand suspected of illegal fuel trading.

According to suspicions, Karuse and six other suspects swayed people to vote for him or his daughter in the October local government council elections. Initial information suggests over 20 voters were swayed and promised cash, motor fuel or alcohol in return.

The suspect ran for the Center Party in Valga Municipality in the 2021 local government council elections, the South District Prosecutor's Office said.

Karuse and another person are suspected of selling liquid fuel without a license in the city of Valga through an associated company. Suspicions suggest over €40,000 worth of fuel has been sold illegally.

"Evidence suggests vote-buying was systemic and repeated and took place in the weeks leading up to polling day. We have no grounds at this time to tie the suspect's daughter to the offense, even though they also ran in the election and votes were procured also for them," said Ats Kübarsepp, head of the corruption crime unit of the Central Criminal Police.

Proceedings were launched based on sections of the Penal Code on offenses against freedom of election and illegal handling of liquid fuels. The investigation is being handled by the Central Criminal Police and proceedings by the South District Prosecutor's Office.

The district prosecution sent another case of vote-buying to court last week. A 41-year-old man who ran for the Reform Party in Tõrva Municipality has been charged with breach of freedom of election. According to the charges, he transported at least five persons from their homes to the polling station, asked them to vote for him and offered them alcoholic beverages in return. The man has also been charged with violating a restraining order and physical abuse.

Center secretary general: We are trying to clarify the matter

Andre Hanimägi, secretary general for the Center Party, told ERR that the party does not have a full picture of what happened and against whom suspicions have been brought.

"We know only what the media has reported. I have not been in touch with Allain Karuse or Ester Karuse yet," Hanimägi said, adding that the news has allegedly also taken regional chairman Alar Nääme by surprise.

"We need more clarity in terms of what has transpired, what are the allegations, as well as the person's own view. After that, the party will have to make a decision whether cooperation can continue," he said.

Read more at ERR.