Former minister Villu Reiljan and former Tallinn city government official Priit Kutser testified in Harju County Court in the framework of the graft case against suspended mayor and former longtime Center Party chairman Edgar Savisaar on Wednesday.
Reiljan, standing accused as part of the case against Savisaar, said on Wednesday that he asked Savisaar for help in order to solve the problems of his former employer, businessman Vello Kunman, with regard to a property on Tallinn's Sihi Street, and said that Kunman was prepared to financially support the Center Party.
Reiljan initially said that he understood the charges against him and confirmed that the reprimands against him were justified.
He said that he worked for Kunman for a long time as an advier at Silikaat Grupp AS. "My duties included advising in the fields of agriculture, the environment and development, and predominantly to Vello Kunman," he said, describing their relations as businesslike and active but adding that as of this July, he no longer considered it posibble to continue working for the businessman.
Reiljan was notified on Dec. 15, 2014 of construction work on Sihi Street, a property owned by Kunman's daughter which is part of the charges. "Kunman was very nervous and upset all day, saying that his daughter's constrution work on Sihi Street was being illegally obstructed, and he was of the opinion that the situation shuold try to be resolved," he recalled.
Reiljan said that Kunman knew that he would have to pay a Christmas visit to then-mayor Savisaar and added that this was why Kunman told him about the issue with his daughter's property. "'When you go to the mayor, tell him about your concern,'" Reiljan said, recalling what Kunman had told him at the time.
"It was expected that the mayor would call the building inspector to order that construction be allowed to continue; I promised to take that information to the mayor," said Reiljan, adding that Kunman had also thought of supporting the Center Party with a few tens of thousands of euros and that the businessman had asked that when he meets Savisaar, he should also "mention the party support issue."
Reiljan said that he called Savisaar and made an appointment to meet. Prior to that, he had driven to the property on Sihi Street in order to see what was happening there. Reiljan met with Savisaar at the city government, where he also spoke about the Sihi Street issue. "I greeted Savisaar on behalf of Kunman," he recalled. "I had with me half a liter of cognac and a Christmas card, which I handed over and said that my boss has agreed to support the Center Party with €20,000. Then I spoke about Kunman's concern."
According to Reiljan, Savisaar said that the party always needs money. "I spoke about the ongoing construction on Sihi Street," he said. "I told him that an injunction had been issued to Kerstin Kunman and a penalty payment had been issued for deviating from the project — that her construction was being obstructed but that, in reality, all was well with the project, everything was perfect and they wished to carry on with the construction.
"Savisaar said that the issue was being investigated and it might be possible to clear it up," Reiljan said, adding that this was the extent of his conversation with Savisaar on the matter. At the same time, he said that he was unaware of whether and how Savisaar further dealt with the issue.
"After Christmas and the new year, I asked Kerstin Kunman's partner to hand give me the construction documents; once I saw them, I realized that it was an extension we were dealing with," he recalled.
Reiljan then asked a city official with whom he was acquainted for a meeting with the building inspector, with whom they also visited the property. Upon arrival it was revealed that the historically valuable building on site had been demolished and the building under construction had nothing to do with the plan. Reiljan also told the inspector that he understood that the plan had been violated. Asked how the problem could be resolved, the inspector said that it was no longer their concern. "That is also what I told Kunman as well and I no longer dealt with the issue," Reiljan said. He said that, as far as he knew, no one from the city government or the Center Party later approached Kunman.
Reiljan said that he currently felt that his communication with Savisaar on the topics noted in the charges was unacceptable. "I made a mistake and it is embarrassing to stand here for the third time and testify on a topic which could have bee avoided," he said in court.
Kutser say he erred in producing campaign poster
Former Tallinn city government official Priit Kutser confessed that he erred against regulations when producing pre-election campaign posters but was unable to specify against what he erred; he later reaffirmed that he did not violate any laws.
Testifying in court on Wednesday, Kutser said that he knew Kalev Kallo and Edgar Savisaar personally, but admitted that he was not friends with either of them. Kutser recalled that in 2013, he worked as deputy of then-Põhja-Tallinn City District Elder Karin Tammemägi, with whom he did not have good relations. Kutser said that his immediate scope of duties was the city economy, but he also handled media-related tasks.
"Work was done then in the name of elections; voters see when you're doing good work," Kutser aid, adding that quite a few of the city district's officials were involved in the elections at the time. "The city district elder and their deputy are both officials and politicians. Various events took place; we communicated with residents," he explained regarding preparations for the elections.
Kutser said that he obeyed the law and Tallinn city statutes and it was possible that the city district also had a document directing his work. He admitted that he did not know how much money was allocated to the city district for preparing for the elections.
"For my personal campaign, I had handkerchiefs with my face and name on them and I distributed them," Kutser said. Regarding the construction of a sports center in Põhja-Tallinn, Kutser said that the matter was on the agenda in 2013 and had been earlier as well. In response to a clarifying question from the prosecutor, however, he responded he could not recall whether the construction of the center was on the agenda prior to the elections.
He said that when an advertisement for the planned sports center was produced, his photo was addedd to it as well. Kutser reaffirmed that he participated actively in the designing of the poster, and that its designer only carried out its technical realization. "The plan was to introduce the construction of the sports center and increase my fame in relation to that project," Kutser said. "It was inexpensive to put up the advertisement at the location where the sports center was planned to be built and associate it with me."
Kutser said that the idea to produce the poster dated back to the spring and that the advertisement was put up in July. It was also run by the city district elder, who approved it. "Had I not produced the poster, she would have done so herself," he claimed.
Kutser said that the advertisement was paid for using city district budgetary funds, and that Tammemägi was personally responsible for it. "It was customary for posters to be produced with the city district's assets," he said.
He also claimed that the more famous a person is, the more success they can expect to have in the elections. "As a politician, one's activities are always directed toward elections," said the former deputy city district elder. "The production of this poster was also partly connected to local elections."
Kutser responded in the negative when asked if the funding of election campaigns from city district assets is allowed. He admitted that he also thought he violated norms, but was unable to specify when asked against what specifically he had erred.
According to Kutser, Savisaar was also aware of the campaign, but there was no talk with the mayor about the sources from which the campaign was funded. "I seldom communicated with Savisaar; direct communication with him was very brief," Kutser said, adding that he showed the advertisement and the sentence on it to Savisaar. "I wanted confirmation that I was not making the wrong promise on the poster."
The former city district official added that the ads were taken down before the election advertising ban period began.
Savisaar charged in connection to four cases of bribery
The Office of the Prosecutor General has charged Savisaar in using Tallinn city budgetary funds for the benefit of the Center Party and himself, i.e. embezzlement on a large-scale basis, by an official and by a group, as well as in four cases of accepting bribes, money laundering and the acceptance of prohibited large-scale donations to the Center Party. The Center Party has also been charged as a legal entity.
Charged with bribing Savisaar are businessmen Aivar Tuulberg, Alexander Kofkin, Hillar Teder and Vello Kunman. Tallinn City Council chairman Kalev Kallo has been charged with assisting in the making and accepting of bribes; former politician Villu Reiljan is charged with arranging a bribe of Savisaar. Põhja-Tallinn deputy city district elder Priit Kutser has also had to stand trial.
The Prosecutor General terminated criminal proceedings concerning seven officials due to a lack of basis, as the officials' actions were not committed with the intention of appropriating city property for the party or individuals associated with it.
Editor: Aili Vahtla