Anti-corruption committee, minister to look into scandal surrounding EU money granted to company of former president
The Riigikogu’s Anti-Corruption Select Committee will begin its hearings in the matter of former president Toomas Hendrik Ilves’ company Ermamaa on Monday. In the assessment of its chairman, Artur Talvik (Free Party), the Finance Ministry’s audit of Enterprise Estonia’s Ermamaa grant project hints at an improper business scheme.
“There was an attempt at solving the thing in almost a legal fashion, but the audit also says that mistakes were made,” Talvik said to ERR on Friday. “We need to hear what the motives of the decision-makers were, and what the discussions really were. The audit also says that there are no other documents in the matter. So it’s purely a question of people’s memory and honesty how much they will tell us about what really happened.”
The committee has asked Minister of Entrepreneurship Liisa Oviir (SDE) to meet with them and explain the results of the audit. It has also called for former Minister of Economic Affairs Juhan Parts (IRL) to answer questions, as Enterprise Estonia fell in Parts’ jurisdiction back in 2012, when the terms of Ermamaa’s grants were changed.
“What we want to ask Parts is if he exercized political influence, or if the Office of the President tried to influence ministers,” Talvik said. The question of pressure from the Office of the President also extended to the management of Enterprise Estonia as of the year 2012, which is why they also wanted to talk to then-CEO Maria Alajõe, Talvik added.
Ermamaa scandal part of a bigger problem
According to Talvik, the Ermamaa scandal is an expression of a bigger issue in Estonian politics. “This is part of why the people are angry with the politicians. That they have become a class of privileged people among themselves, and public officials support this system, as they don’t oppose this kind of behavior. This needs to be weeded out, we have such a small society, we can’t have it that someone is treated as if they were privileged,” Talvik said.
Though perhaps not with its current management, Enterprise Estonia in the past had been a playroom of politically directed funds, Talvik added. People had received money from the fund that had happened to belong to the right parties, and had the right connections.
Minister: Enterprise Estonia made serious mistakes
Minister of Entrepreneurship Liisa Oviir, herself a jurist, stressed on Thursday that any action on the part of Enterprise Estonia this year should have been based on the fact that when they decided to change Ermamaa’s grant terms in 2012, they reserved the right to review the percentage of what they would demand back in 2016.
“In my assessment the decision could have been changed, and in my opinion should have been changed,” Oviir said. “If this decision had been changed at that time, this whole mess wouldn’t have happened that now had to be dealt with.” She added that she was very much under the impression that the current management of Enterprise Estonia had hurried things too much. There would have been time until Jan. 1, 2017, but the decision to only demand back 10% of the grant had been made within a day or two.
“I have said that the organization [Enterprise Estonia] made serious mistakes twice, which has affected its reputation, the reputation of the applicant [OÜ Ermamaa], and the reputation of the Estonian state. The organization needs to accept clear responsibility,” Oviir stressed. “Hiding behind some tree now isn’t adequate.”