Expert Gives Government Failing Grade in VEB Case
On Wednesday, University of Tartu financial law docent Lasse Lehis presented his expert analysis of the VEB Fund case to a special parliamentary committee that is investigating the matter.
Lehis was critical of the actions of the Estonian government and the Bank of Estonia in the 1990s case, saying they had failed to act in the interests of Estonian residents and companies, reported ETV.
The analysis, which was commissioned by Parliament, conceded the government had fulfilled its duties in saving banks from bankruptcy and securing state finances in the volatile years after re-independence. But the government should have also been more active in protecting the interests of VEB Fund claimants by compensating their losses, Lehis said. His reasoning was that, because Russia had frozen Estonia's funds claiming the country owed money tracing back to Soviet finances, the dispute was between the governments and therefore the private claimants should not have suffered.
Lehis added that the government had a moral obligation to split the money it did manage to recover with private claimants.
"My message is that the state should not have just waited to see whether they would succeed in unfreezing the money from Russia. The state should have itself taken responsibility, because Russia did not freeze the money of Bank of Estonia clients; Russia froze Estonian public funds and Estonia should have sought possibilities for compensating the bank client's claims, at least in the long run,“ Lehis said.
Parliament's investigation committee has questioned 20 people connected to the case and has yet to hear testimonies from around 10 people, including European Commissioner Siim Kallas and Nordea Estonia CEO Vahur Kraft. The final report is due on December 2.
"We still have the tip of the pyramid, so to say, the top decision-makers have yet to be called to the floor. After that we will put our opinion in writing and we will try to describe the situation with as much detail as possible," said MP Rainer Vakra, who heads the VEB Fund investigating committee.
In January, the Bank of Estonia released an internal audit, which found that the bank had falsified a document related to the VEB fund in 1995. The matter was not picked up by the public prosecutor because the statute of limitations had expired, but both Parliament and the National Audit Office launched probes.
Parliament had terminated the VEB Fund in 2012, once created for the reimbursement of Soviet-era bank accounts that were frozen by the Russian parliament in 1992.