Jüri Ratas to meet with rural affairs minister Monday

Prime Minister Jüri Ratas speaking to ERR on Friday.
Prime Minister Jüri Ratas speaking to ERR on Friday. Source: ERR

Prime Minister Jüri Ratas says is to meet rural affairs minister Mart Järvik (EKRE) on Monday, in the wake of revelations that an advisor had continued to work as a defense lawyer in a case where an organization under the rural affairs ministry's remit was the plaintiff. He added that he was keen to speak to the minister over a previous controversy surrounding a Listeria outbreak at a fish processing plant.

Ratas told ERR Friday that the situation was critical and that the adivsorr, Urmas Arumäe, should step down, which in fact the latter did on Friday afternoon.

Arumäe, was hired by Järvik in May, but reportedly continued to work on the case, defending eight people accused misappropriating EU funds from the Agricultural Registers and Information Board (PRIA). PRIA falls under the rural affairs ministry's auspices.

The ensuing conflict of interest also saw Järvik himself not signing the mandate which would allow the PRIA to file a claim for damages in the case.

The prosecutor's office has also opened up a criminal investigation into the affair.

Ratas told ERR that Järvik had not told him why he recruited Arumäe in the first place, saying that he would meet the minister on Monday. The story broke in the Estonian media Thursday, late afternoon.

"These type of difficult situations have to be solved face to face. As I said, I want to meet Minister Järvik as soon as possible," Ratas, who first commented on the controversy after 2 a.m. on Friday morning via his social media account, said.

The prime minister added that he wanted to talk to Järvik before speaking about any resignation. Opposition leaders have called for just that, with Reform leader Kaja Kallas saying a no-confidence vote will be on its way if Järvik does not step down on Monday.

Ratas also said that he still awaited an explanation of an earlier controversy surrounding Järvik, after revelations showed that the minister probably knew about Listeria bacteria being detected at the M.V.Wool fish factory in June, and not August, when he claimed he was first aware of the issue. Two people in Estonia, as well as several more Europe-wide, died from Listeriosis, allegedly traced to the M.V.Wool plant.

Järvik, who was still in China when the story broke, himself called the handling of the Arumäe situation "stupid".

Just over two weeks ago, Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE) foreign trade and IT minister Kert Kingo stepped down following accusations she had misled the Riigikogu over the appointment of an advisor.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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