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Thursday, August 6, 1998 Published at 13:01 GMT 14:01 UK


Briton jailed over 'joke' e-mail

Estonia: 'A beautiful country peopled by a dour and serious race'

A Briton who sent a 'joke' e-mail to a colleague in the UK has been jailed for three years in Estonia for conspiracy to murder a Tallinn casino boss.

Martin Symons, 36, from Margate, Kent, denied plotting to murder Armin Karu, owner of the Olympic casino in Tallinn,

His 21-year-old partner Maigi, who is nine months pregnant, has been left "distraught" by the verdict.

Symons worked for International Casino Monitoring (ICM), a British company which specialises in reducing pilfering and improving casino profits. The company was employed by Mr Karu on a fixed contract.

ICM's managing director, Mike Wallis, who has just returned from Tallinn, said the trial was a farce.

'Comedy of errors'

He told News Online: "If it wasn't so serious I would describe it as a comedy of errors."

Mr Wallis said the case against Mr Symons was extremely flimsy and claims he was convicted simply because Estonians "are a very serious people and don't understand jokes".

He said the court did not realise Mr Symons was kidding when he sent an e-mail to Mr Wallis saying Mr Karu should be "topped".

Mr Symons went on to ask Mr Wallis if he knew anyone in the US coastguard who had a helicopter gunship.

Mr Karu told the court: "If it's a joke, it is not one I understand."

But Mr Wallis, who was given an escort by the British embassy when he went to Estonia to give evidence, said: "It was mentioned in between sexual chit chat about his new girlfriend. It was meant as a joke."

He said: "Estonia is a beautiful little country peopled by a race who have lived under communism so long they don't know how to joke."

Negotiated a deal with a hitman

Prosecutors said Mr Symons had negotiated a $4,000 deal with a hitman to plant a bomb under the car of Mr Karu.

An Estonian co-worker, Kaido Esna, was also found guilty of taking part in the murder conspiracy and was sentenced to seven months in prison.

Mr Wallis said the case rested on the evidence of a security guard, employed by Mr Karu, who acted as the alleged go-between between Mr Symons, who did not speak Estonian, and Mr Esna, who did not speak English.

Mr Wallis, who claims the case was cooked up by Mr Karu so he could "wriggle out" of the contract with ICM, said an appeal would be lodged later this month and he is confident of freeing Mr Symons.

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