Tartu Deputy Mayor Kajar Lember, who is suspected in repeatedly taking bribes, resigned from the office of deputy mayor and the supervisory boards of all firms connected with the city on Thursday. He left the Social Democratic Party (SDE) on Friday.
Lember had given notice on May 12 that he would be stepping down from his position as deputy mayor as of June 7, explaining at the time that he would like to focus on private enterprise, and the SDE chose former longtime Tartu County Governor Jaan Õunapuu to replace him.
After Lember, the deputy mayor responsible for Tartu’s finances, business and city property, was detained and his city government office searched on Tuesday in relation to allegations of having repeatedly accepting bribes, Mayor Urmas Klaas, who spoke with Lember over the phone on Wednesday, told BNS on Thursday that they had agreed that it was better for the deputy mayor to leave office immediately.
“He explained to me what the allegations were about, including the episodes connected with his work in the city government, and denied them,” said Klaas. “What we have now are allegations and Lember’s words whereby he has denied them. The city government is cooperating fully with authorities in ascertaining the truth.”
Lember also confirmed to Estonian regional daily Tartu Postimees (link in Estonian) on Thursday that he has submitted a request to leave the SDE. His leaving the party was confirmed via press release on Friday.
Tartu City Government has also ordered its internal audit unit to look into the allegations.
The South District Prosecutor’s Office confirmed that the Central Criminal Police detained Lember on Tuesday under suspicion of repeatedly taking bribes. He is also suspected of EU funding-related fraud amounting to more than 850,000 euros. Lember was released on Wednesday afternoon.
“According to allegations, the deputy mayor did not act in the best interests of the city, rather in his own and in those of the bribe giver, who has also been detained [on Tuesday],” South District Specialized Prosecutor Marek Vahing, who is leading the criminal matter’s pre-trial procedures, told ERR’s online news portal on Tuesday.
In addition to having been a deputy mayor of Tartu since November 2013, Lember was also Chairman of the Supervisory Board at the state-owned transmission system operator Elering, as well as a member of the Board of Directors and the Deputy Chairman of the SDE.
Lember had also previously served as a member of the Riigikogu, having represented both the People’s Union of Estonia as well as the SDE.
Editor: Editor: Aili Sarapik