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6 Jan, 2014 00:03

Anti-Nazi group leader arrested in Estonia over bribery allegations

Anti-Nazi group leader arrested in Estonia over bribery allegations

The head of a local anti-Nazi group has been arrested as part of an investigation into alleged corruption, Estonian TV channels reported Sunday. The Russian minority in Estonia claims his arrest is politically-motivated.

Andrey Zarenkov, the leader of an activist group Estonia Without Nazism and a community center in the town of Maardu, was detained on Saturday night for allegedly receiving a bribe as the head of the Maardu center, local prosecutors said. A man suspected of giving the bribe has also been arrested. Authorities have conducted searches in Zarenkov’s house and office.

Zarenkov, a former chairman of the Constitution Party and a member of the Coordination Council of Russian Compatriots, has for decades fought to protect Russian minorities. He is also a harsh critic of the "non-citizen" status allocated to most Russians that stayed in the country after the collapse of the USSR. Such status denies them a national passport and prevents them from voting.

The prosecutor's Office explained the stem from Zarenkov’s role in the community center’s financial dealings, rather than his political activity.

“This particular investigation relates to economic activity in the community hall for possible corruption,” said Northern District Public Prosecutor's Office spokesman Arno Moose .

The spokesman added that Zarenkov will be initially detained for 48 hours to determine the weight of the evidence collected in his house and office.

“After all investigations have been made, the prosecutor will decide what to do next. We have conducted searches, but what exactly was found, we cannot disclose at this time."

Nicholas Svets from the Maardu People’s House confirmed news of Zarenkov’s arrest and police search, saying that he was “shocked” that police suspected him of bribes, Estonian Delfi reports.

Former mayor and the current chairman of the council, Georgi Bostrov was quoted by the same publication as saying that Zarenkov was “a good man” . He could not provide any further comment as the authorities did not notify Bostrov of Zerenkov’s arrest.

“For decades, I was engaged in internal security and know that now this [fighting corruption] is the prerogative of law enforcement. It is difficult to say what kind of bribe we can speak off when it comes to the People's House," he told Delfi.

In the meantime, a Union of Russian Schools in Estonia, a local NGO fighting for the rights of the Russian minority, said in a statement that the detention of Zarenkov and the searches are “associated with the social position Zarenkov," who for decades defended human rights in the European country.

The NGO believes the authorities are investigating Zarenkov for his role in organizing an international conference on protecting the rights of the Russian community in the Baltic states.

"Andrei Zarenkov has repeatedly spoken against the violation of human rights in Estonia. However, these facts cannot be an aggravating factor in the investigation of any case,” believes the union.

Union activists say that the allegations against Zarenkov are groundless, calling on the authorities to “depoliticize social life in Estonia,” saying that authorities exercise different “methods of influence depending on their political convictions.”

Veterans of 20th Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS (1st Estonian) meet on the Sinimaed hills (RIA Novosti)

The history of Estonia’s role during the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union has been controversial. In total, about 80,000 Estonians joined Nazi troops during the war and 3,000 more fought as volunteers in the Finnish Army, which was also an ally of Nazi Germany. At the same time, about 30,000 Estonians joined the Red Army ranks forming the Estonian Rifle Corps.

Russia has repeatedly voiced protests over the glorification of Nazism in Estonia pointing out that over the past 20 years the Estonian authorities have not shown due respect to the veterans of the Estonian Rifle Corps of the Red Army. At the same time, the veterans who once donned the uniforms of the Waffen SS and other of Hitler’s formations are greeted by Estonia’s state officials and receive decorations and awards.

Tensions rose to a head in 2007 with clashes erupting in the capital Tallinn when the authorities decided to remove the statue of the Bronze soldier, a tribute to the heroism of the red army, along with a mass grave of 13 soldiers to a military cemetery on the outskirts of Tallinn from the city center.

Russians severely criticized the decision to move the memorial, saying it undermined the role of Soviet soldiers who they see as liberators.