Coalition party chair: Minister should resign if allegations true

Isamaa chairman Helir-Valdor Seeder.
Isamaa chairman Helir-Valdor Seeder. Source: Siim Lõvi/ERR

Isamaa leader Helir-Valdor Seeder says that should accusations levelled at rural affairs minister Mart Järvik (EKRE) prove to have a basis, then the latter should resign. Seeder's party is in office with Järvik's own party, the Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE). Reform Party leader Kaja Kallas went considerably further in positing a damned-if-he-does, damned-if-he-doesn't predicament for Järvik.

Revelations that Järvik had hired an advisor, Urmas Arumäe, who subsequently acted on behalf of defendants in a legal case against an organization under the rural affairs ministry's remit, led to the commencement of a criminal investigation by the prosecutor's office Thursday.

Arumäe, who worked on a part-time basis, stepped down from the post Friday afternoon, but Järvik still has to answer for his own role in the controversy.

This prompted accusations of a conflict of interest. Arumäe had also previously represented Järvik's son in a 2016 criminal case.

Seeder said that while he does not have all the information about what went on in the case, the accusations are nonetheless serious.

"If these turn out to be true, the minister should naturally resign," he added.

"It must be determined what is true and what is not, and Järvik's own explanations must be heard. Then we can proceed," Seeder said, noting that this could range from Järvik remaining in office to resigning; the point was getting to the bottom of the matter, Seeder said.

Prime Minister Jüri Ratas (Centre) said he will be meeting with Järvik on Monday, after the minister has returned from a working trip to China.

Reform leader: Arumäe resignation doesn't mean matter over

Opposition Reform Party leader Kaja Kallas said that Arumäe's resignation is not the end of the matter.

"There are two options - either the minister himself is so stupid that he does not realize how he is being manipulated with or he has committed these acts knowingly," Kallas wrote on her social media page, according to BNS.

Kallas had already said on Thursday that if Järvik had not resigned by Monday, she would initiate a vote of no-confidence in the minister, which would be the third such motion since the current Centre/EKRE/SDE coalition entered into office in late April.

"In both cases (i.e. wittingly or unwittingly allowing Arumäe to work in a conflict of interest situation-ed.), such a person would be unfit to continue as a minister. The EKRE leadership has already said Mart Järvik must stay. Thus, the ball is now in Jüri Ratas' court, who has to decide whether the government will ensure that justice is not impeded and the minister of rural affairs resigns [or not]. Otherwise, both the government and the 55 coalition MPs at the Riigikogu are standing up for corrupting collusion," she added.

The controversy comes soon after reports that Järvik knew about Listeria bacteria concerns at fish processing plant M.V.Wool many weeks before he claims he first heard about it. Whereas Järvik said he became aware of the issue, which has been linked to the deaths of two people in Estonia and several more Europe-wide, in mid-August, ministry records show he may have been aware of it in June.

Järvik's own party, EKRE, has stood by him. Prime Minister Jüri Ratas (Centre) suggested Arumäe's resignation was the best option given the situation, which duly happened within hours of Ratas making the statement to ERR; as regards Järvik and any resignation, Ratas said he needed to speak to the minister first.

The last ministerial resignation came just over two weeks ago, when Kert Kingo, also of EKRE, stepped down as foreign trade and IT minister.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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