ETV's Pealtnägija program has uncovered a scheme where a shady businessman has received cheap rental property from Tallinn, and in turn has helped the party gain votes in local elections.
The program said 66-year-old Juri Saharov won a tender in 2009 to rent a cafe on Harjumägi, the hill behind the War of Independence Victory Column in Tallinn. The contract was signed for 25 years at a price of under 2 euros per square meter per month, far lower compared to the near 70 euros paid for rental space near the Old Town Square.
Deputy Mayor Taavi Aas said they held a tender, and many did not want to participate as renovation costs were high. Saharov invested 200,000 euros into the cafe, which he then rented to the Center Party before elections for nothing. The cafe was turned into a Center Party cafe for the elections, acting as a elections headquarters.
Saharov said he just wants to help the party and wants to see Center Party chairman Edgar Savisaar named prime minister.
More shady business
Saharov also rents a retail building on Stroomi beach, the same building which featured a large advertisement of a Center Party candidate promoting the city's services. Opposition members branded the ad as taxpayer-funded political advertising.
He also owns or operates more than 10 parking lots in Tallinn. The operation does not turn a profit, but if the population becomes richer then they will want to park more, he told Pealtnägija.
“Those who use the parking lots may realize that if someone does something for them, maybe they will need backing at elections. That maybe we will do something even better,” said Saharov, clearly pointing to buying votes.
There is little clarity on his parking lot business balance sheet, which according to the ETV program only employed two staff members at a salary of 2,000 euros for the entire 2013.
Yet many of his parking lots boast 24-hour guards. Saharov said many people guard the lots for free, in return for free parking.
When the program, under cover, applied for a job at one of his parking lots, he proposed the following conditions: two days off, one 24-hour shift, which is not allowed by labor laws. The salary would be 200 euros per month, without a contract and in cash.
Pealtnägija calculated that he pockets around 10,000 euros each month from the parking lots, all undeclared.
The Center Party has said it does not know of Saharov's operations and it is a topic for the police, with Aas naming the whole story as nonsense and slander.