Chair of the Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE) and vice-chair Martin Helme, have said that calls for rural affairs minister Mart Järvik (EKRE) to resign are part of a coordinated campaign, involving the mainstream media, the opposition parties, and the prosecutor's office. He also noted that Järvik has been taken to task after shaking up two organizations in his remit, the Veterinary and Food Board (VTA) and the Agricultural Registers and Information Board (PRIA).
Järvik has been facing pressure to resign following revelations on Thursday that Järvik's advisor, Urmas Arumäe, had been working against the interests of a body which falls under the rural affairs ministry's remit.
Arumäe, a lawyer, continued to represent eight defendants in a case of EU funding misappropriation, where the PRIA was the plaintiff. While Arumäe stepped down from the part-time post Friday afternoon, the pressure on Järvik remains since he was seemingly aware of the potential conflict of interest taking place.
While Arumäe was hired in May, as recently as September, Järvik declined to sign off on a mandate which would have allowed the PRIA to claim damages in the same case involving Arumäe and his law firm.
The latest controversy follows allegations that Järvik was aware of Listeria bacteria being traced to the M.V.Wool fish processing plant in June or July. Järvik claims that he had been unaware of the outbreak, which has been linked with the deaths of two people in Estonia and several more Europe-wide, until mid-August.
Helme issued a video Friday (link in Estonian) where he made the claims about ajoint information operation involving the opposition Reform and Social Democratic (SDE) parties, the mainstream media, and the prosecutor's office, against Järvik and EKRE.
Järvik himself has been on a working trip to China recently.
"We are seeing a very clearly coordinated information operation and an attack on the Minister of Rural Affairs, Mart Järvik, for very clear reasons. First, the reason is that Mart Järvik has been working very hard in his field and has taken on food safety all over," Helme said.
"This has undoubtedly upset the ineffective Veterinary and Food Board (VTA), who are accustomed to living in a safe space where they are used to doing whatever business they like or dislike. And now that the minister has intervened and demanded food safety all over, it has seriously rocked the boat with officials who used to live in this comfort zone, "Helme said.
Helme repeated the charge against the PRIA, the organization at the heart of the latest controversy.
"The other side of the coin is that we are now seeing a struggle for life and death on the political playing field.''
''Perhaps the fallen-from-grace Social Democratic Party, and the Reform Party, are ready to use any sneaky, defamatory ... and other techniques to undermine the current coalition, especially to undermine EKRE, because we are the force in this coalition, that drives things and wants to bring about change," Helme went on.
The media and the prosecution also criticized
According to Helme, the buck does not stop with the political opposition, but the press and the prosecution are also at fault.
"We see with regret the involvement of our mainstream media, including public broadcaster ERR, in this information operation, which has clearly chosen sides for political motives."
The coordination of the information operation is evidenced by the fact that it comes at a time when Minister of Rural Affairs Järvik was in China and thus unable to respond adequately to the attacks, Helme said.
"That's the summary of this storm in a teacup which is trying to take out our minister. But I say, as party leader, we're not recalling our minister. If the minister has advisors who have done something other than their role requires, this is a separate issue, but our minister is doing a good job and we have no objections to him," Helme went on.
Martin Helme, Mart's son, and the finance minister, also stepped up to the plate on Friday, in defense of Järvik.
"If [Järvik's] advisers have given him bad advice, then their suitability needs to be discussed, but the minister will not be shaken," Helme wrote on his social media account, noting also that Järvik was still out of the country, and had been performing well and acting as a trouble-shooter with governmental agencies in his domain.
"We stand behind our minister with no reservations. There is no question of relinquishing or recalling Järvik," Helme continued, also contrasting Järvik's treatment with what he saw as the lenient conclusion to the Mary Kross case. Kross was charged with providing false information to the police over an attack she said she was victim of late last year. However, the prosecutor's office terminated the case last week.
Editor: Andrew Whyte