Center Party Tallinn deputy mayor Arvo Sarapuu accused of corruption ({{commentsTotal}})

Arvo Sarapuu (left) getting a demonstration of a new garbage truck.
Arvo Sarapuu (left) getting a demonstration of a new garbage truck. Source: (Postimees/Scanpix)

CEO of waste disposal company Ragn-Sells in Estonia, Rain Vääna, and CEO of Eesti Keskkonnateenused (EKT), Argo Luude, are accusing Tallinn deputy mayor Arvo Sarapuu (Center) of meddling with the city’s waste disposal businesses and tenders, the protocol of a meeting of the Riigikogu’s Anti-Corruption Select Committee shows.

According to the protocol of the meeting that took place on May 8, EKT’s Argo Luude is accusing Sarapuu of having lied to committee chairman Artur Talvik (Free Party) when he told him that he had never so much as been interested in the garbage business.

Accusation: Sarapuu tried to get into waste disposal business using city's landfills operator

Luude pointed out that there were tender documents that showed that Atko Liinid, a transport company owned by the Sarapuu family the board of which Arvo Sarapuu chairs, had participated and entered a bid as well. Sarapuu had also shown interest in buying the Tallinn landfills from Veolia, formerly the parent company of EKT.

Luude worked for Veolia at that point and confirms he participated in several meetings at Atko’s office where a potential sale was discussed. People present included Margo Tomingas, Sarapuu’s son-in-law and a member of Atko’s management, Sarapuu himself, and Allan Pohlak, who at the time was in charge of Tallinn’s landfills. According to the committee meeting’s protocol, Luude said that they discussed the conditions of a possible takeover of the landfills by Atko.

The plans made then aimed at keeping Ragn-Sells, who at the time were getting ready to compete, out of future waste disposal tenders, Luude said, adding that Ragn-Sells was also slowed down and bullied by the city council by making them wait for permits, and by repeatedly coming up with new conditions the company had to meet.

“I sat on the board of the Tallinn landfills with Arvo Sarapuu, and he himself talked about how he was planning to demand different documents from Ragn-Sells that they didn’t have anyway,” Luude told the committee.

Accusation: Veolia doesn't want to sell city landfill stake, so Sarapuu uses own position to hijack it and force Veolia to sell to city instead

He added that Sarapuu talked to then-CEO of Veolia Estonia, Matthias Vogel, to find ways to lower the price of the company, so that he could buy it. But the Germans made it perfectly clear that they would sell honestly, and only to the highest bidder.

Veolia held a share of 65 percent in the landfills, the city held 35 percent—but with special privileges, which Sarapuu used to keep Veolia from selling the landfills altogether when it became clear that he wouldn’t be able to buy Veolia’s stake. “The landfills weren’t sold, and later the city bought [Veolia’s stake],” Luude said.

Luude described several other cases where Sarapuu had made attempts at getting into the garbage business in the capital. One of them involved Baltic Waste Management (BWM), according to Luude a company that Sarapuu controls.

Accusation: Sarapuu eventually got into Tallinn waste disposal business through Baltic Waste Management, gave company preferential treatment

In 2014 the city announced tenders that didn’t require bidders to have any kind of reference in the waste disposal business. “It was clear that the idea was to let random businesses enter the market. When the bids were made public, it became clear that a new company, BWM, had made an offer,” Luude said.

After the city initially rejecting BWM’s exceptionally low bid, saying that it was underestimating certain costs, it gradually accepted the company as a viable contender, and it started taking on contracts in some parts of the city. In Nõmme, it operated without a license, a problem that Sarapuu played down. Not having a license turned into a serious problem for Luude’s EKM a little later, when the city partially suspended EKM’s license to put pressure on the company in a tender dispute.

“In connection with us, the disposal license is a very important document, but BWM could go about its business for a month and a half without a license. The city’s preferential treatment of BWM is perfectly obvious, if you’re in this business. There were no demands made to BWM, and they didn’t have to pay fines either,” Luude told the committee.

Weekly: Sarapuu and Baltic Waste Management clearly connected

Weekly Eesti Ekspress reported in March that the connections between Sarapuu, the city’s planning department, BWM, and Atko were close, a fact Luude also referred to. Atko CEO and Sarapuu’s son-in-law, Margo Tomingas, is involved in the business of BWM, and has bought garbage trucks for the company. Also, BWM’s trucks are maintained and parked on the territory of Atko, and according to Luude the company actually rents them from one of Sarapuu’s businesses.

Vääna: Talking about problems means city will fine Ragn-Sells

Luude told the committee that he wanted to make statements to the prosecutor’s office, or to the Internal Security Service, the branch of law enforcement that typically investigates large-scale corruption cases.

Ragn-Sells CEO Rain Vääna supported Luude’s statement that in their business everybody had been aware already for three years that there was a connection between BWM and Arvo Sarapuu.

“We would gladly tell the prosecutor’s office or the Internal Security Service about this, because this thing needs to end,” Vääna said. Luude added that perhaps the matter wasn’t “black and white” enough for the prosecutor, or a deal had been made with former Center Party chairman and suspended Tallinn mayor Edgar Savisaar that somehow included Sarapuu’s businesses.

Vääna added that he could offer a legal analysis by his lawyer of 20 statements Sarapuu had made in the media that he said had been lies. He also added that Ragn-Sells was still being bullied by the city by means of fines and the like.

Accusation: Sarapuu stacked city department controlling waste disposal with own people

According to Luude, Sarapuu has already taken the next step and manned the city’s environmental department with his and his wife’s friends. They were not competent, and adding the attempt to profit from how the city arranged its waste disposal services, the current situation was the logical result. If it weren’t for the personal financial interests and the incompetence of the city’s environmental department, there wouldn’t be any problems with Tallinn’s waste disposal, Luude said.

“We are being attacked so ferociously that we simply have to say how things are. Until now we didn’t dare say too much, because as I’ve already shown, the consequence of saying how things are is a €30,000 fine. This isn’t about how to be profitable, but about how to survive,” Vääna said.

Sarapuu: Accusations are absurd

In his comment to ERR on Monday, Sarapuu called the accusations against him absurd and said that what Luude and Vääna were doing was slander. According to him, Ragn-Sells and EKT are trying to force an open market on the city.

Sarapuu in turn accused Vääna and Luude of lying to the committee, and said that they were trying to “get rid” of him. “Looking at what the competition is about, then it’s very simple—these two companies want a free market, a free market for price hikes, and Tallinn wants to arrange waste disposal through waste processing centers. And naturally they need to show by any means necessary that these centers are bad, because the centers don’t follow the pricing model they want, and naturally because the waste processing center eventually answers to me, because this is my competence area. And naturally they need to get rid of the person who is in favor of the ideology [sic] of waste disposal centers,” Sarapuu said.

ERR’s Estonian online news asked Sarapuu directly if he had tried in any way to enter into the waste disposal business. Sarapuu’s answer: “I certainly haven’t gone into any garbage business. There has to be some kind of evidence presented. How can I go into the garbage business if I haven’t done that? This needs to be very real and clear. Personally I’m not involved in any garbage business, and neither are my daughters nor my son nor my wife.”

Arvo Sarapuu’s wife is Kersti Sarapuu, who is a member of the Riigikogu and the chairwoman of the Center Party’s parliamentary group.

Sarapuu also called the accusation that he had stacked the environmental department of the city of Tallinn with his and his wife’s friends absurd. “The managers of both of these companies are talking about all kinds of absurd things. But it isn’t like that. Where are these friends, acquaintances or relatives of mine in the environmental department? I’d like to see them,” Sarapuu said.

Asked if he would move against Vääna and Luude’s accusations, Sarapuu said that he would wait for them to present evidence against him first. Acting mayor of Tallinn, Taavi Aas, told ERR that he would wait for a potential statement by a prosecutor before commenting the matter.

Editor: Dario Cavegn

Source: ERR Uudised