Tartu deputy mayor Kajar Lember detained on bribery suspicions, city government office searched (2)
The South District Prosecutor’s Office confirmed that the Central Criminal Police detained Tartu Deputy Mayor Kajar Lember (SDE) under suspicion of repeatedly taking bribes. The prosecutor’s office also confirmed that Tartu City Government offices were searched in relation to this criminal case.
“As the investigation is ongoing, today we can only confirm that we have grounds for suspecting Tartu Deputy Major Kajar Lember in accepting bribes,” South District Specialized Prosecutor Marek Vahing, who is leading the criminal matter’s pre-trial procedures, told ERR’s online news portal. “According to the suspicion, 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].”
“The evidence gathered suggests that the bribery occurred repeatedly over an extended period of time,” added Janek Maasik, director of the Economic Crimes Department of the Central Criminal Police.
Lember will initially be detained as a suspect for a period of 48 hours, as the prosecutor’s office does not currently find it necessary to arrest the deputy mayor.
The criminal case’s pre-trial procedures will be conducted by the Central Criminal Police’s Economic Crimes Department and led by the South District Prosecutor’s Office. Additional comments regarding the case are expected to be released sometime today.
Lember gave notice on May 12 that he would be stepping down from his position as deputy mayor, explaining at the time that he would like to focus on private enterprise.
Kajar Lember is a member of the Board of Directors as well as the Deputy Chairman of Estonia’s Social Democratic Party (SDE). Before joining the SDE, Lember was a longtime board member in the People's Union of Estonia.
Lember has been the deputy mayor responsible for Tartu’s finances, business and city property since November 2013. He has previously been a member of the Riigikogu, having represented both the People’s Union as well as the SDE. He is also Chairman of the Supervisory Board at the state-owned transmission system operator Elering.
Tartu Mayor Klaas: City government is cooperating fully
In a telephone interview with ETV’s nightly news broadcast “Aktuaalne kaamera,” Tartu Mayor Urmas Klaas (Reform) said that that investigators have the full cooperation of the city government.
“This morning at approximately 8:30 a.m., a search was conducted in the deputy mayor’s office, during which the deputy mayor himself was present,” explained Klaas. “The police officers conducting the operation informed me as well about what was going on in the deputy mayor’s office at the time.”
The mayor of Tartu went on to state that “Naturally this is all very unexpected for us, and the city government is fully cooperating with investigating authorities so that the truth may be figured out and the investigation can proceed as quickly as possible.”
Noting that no other city government employees had been detained, Klaas stated that he could not comment one way or another on the claims regarding the deputy mayor, and that the prosecuting office was the one who could and must comment on the allegations against Lember.
Postimees: Bribery allegations tied to Raadi project
According to Estonian daily Postimees (link in Estonian), the content of the suspicion was related to the Raadi project, the latter of which was the reason behind Lember’s resignation as deputy mayor less than two weeks ago.
Explaining why he was leaving his position, Lember had previously stated that “The city will soon be organizing a design contest for a number of potential development sites in Raadi in order to fix that area up. I have decided that I would like to participate with an idea of my own. I think that [my] participation in the contest would cause a conflict of interest, therefore I have decided to resign as deputy mayor and focus for some time on the private sector.”
Secretary General Luigas: Allegations like a bolt from the blue
SDE’s Secretary General Inara Luigas told ERR’s online news portal that the news regarding Lember’s detainment and allegations against him was very unexpected.
“This news was like a bolt from the blue to me,” said Luigas. “Of course the mere fact that such allegations have been raised is already a pity. It is currently too early to comment, as the party does not have information regarding this case.”
Party Chairman Ossinovski: Lember should step down from Board of Directors
“The allegations made by law enforcement against Kajar Lember are very serious, however the party currently has no more information about them than the rest of the public,” commented SDE Chairman Jevgeni Ossinovski. “Social democrats believe that one of the most important values of a democratic society is the transparency and honesty of its politics. Consequently, the party unequivocally condemns any abuse of public power."
While the chairman recognized the fact that in the Republic of Estonia, the administration of justice lay in the hands of the courts, he nonetheless added, “In light of emerging allegations, I consider it necessary for Kajar Lember to step down from the party’s Board of Directors.”
Minister of Economic Affairs Michal: Lember should step down as chairman of Elering
“As the allegations are not currently known to pertain to his work on the board, I expect Kajar Lember to give notice of his resignation from Elering’s Supervisory Board at the first possible opportunity,” Minister of Economic Affairs and Communications Kristen Michal.
“I have spoken with members of the SDE who agree and will be nominating a new member to the Supervisory Board,” he added.
According to Michal, the change in membership of Elering’s Supervisory Board will be formalized next week, as the minister is currently in Brussels for meetings through the end of the current workweek.
Tartu Deputy Mayor Laur: Lember not involved in setting conditions for Raadi design competition
Speaking on Vikerraadio’s news broadcast “Uudis+,” Tartu Deputy Mayor Jarno Laur (SDE) told that when the city government decided to organize a design contest for the development of two properties in Tartu’s Raadi neighborhood located near the new Estonian National Museum (ERM), Lember withdrew himself from discussions in both the city government and council regarding the project.
The contest was organized after entrepreneur Neinar Seli waived development rights to the properties located at Roosi 83 and Roosi 84, which include two former aircraft hangars; the aim of the contest was to find a project that would utilize the space on these properties for cultural, tourism- or sports-related purposes.
Laur stated that the possibility of Lember profiting as a city official from the contest was ruled out as the city government drew up the conditions for the contest without Lember’s participation. He added that the development of the Raadi contest has been as transparent as possible, including the city council in its decisions as well. “As far as transparency is concerned, these processes should be such that they do not leave room for anyone to cause confusion or influence them,” said Laur on Vikerraadio.
The other deputy mayor did not directly answer a question regarding how great he considered the risk of corruption in the Estonian government. “If there is even just one case of corruption, then that is a big problem, as corruption is a big problem,” said Laur.