Rural affairs minister Mart Järvik (EKRE), who faces calls from opposition party leaders to resign, says that claims that he had hindered the working of the law in a case involving one of the organizations under his remit are without basis, producing documentation from the justice ministry to back up his claim.
A conflict of interest controversy emerged in the Estonian media Thursday, amid revelations that an adviser Järvik hired in May, Urmas Arumäe, had been simultaneously working on behalf of clients accused of defrauding the Agricultural Registers and Information Board (PRIA), which comes under the rural affairs ministry's mandate.
Arumäe stepped down Friday; the prosecutor's office initiated an investigation into Arumäe's dealings Thursday, stressing that noone was under any suspicion at present.
According to a ministry spokesperson, Järvik had also declined to sign a document which would have allowed the PRIA to claim damages in the over €1 million-case of alleged EU subsidy misappropriation, sparking claims of conflict of interest.
However, Järvik says that the PRIA did not need his authorization to pursue the damages, ERR's online news reports, claiming that authorization he had given to another, similar, claim, should have covered the case involving the defendants represented by Arumäe, too. In fact, Järvik claims, even the first authorization he had issued was not strictly required.
"The PRIA, as a subdivision of the Ministry of Rural Affairs, asked me for a mandate in two criminal cases, so they could represent the state in litigation ... After signing my first mandate, our legal counsel confirmed that this constituted an authorization, which had no retroactive effect," Järvik said, according to ERR.
Järvik went on to say that he had sent a letter to the justice ministry asking whether the PRIA had needed authorization, and a reply in early October from justice minister Raivo Aeg (Isamaa) stated that it was indeed not required.
"In order to clarify the necessity of the mandate. and the legality and merits of the respective claims by the courts, we sent a letter to the Ministry of Justice asking, whether the PRIA needed a ministerial authorization at all, or alrady has statutory representation rights to file public claims."
"At the beginning of October, a letter arrived signed by Minister of Justice Raivo Aeg, confirming that the PRIA may represent the State in court, without the authorization of the Minister. In other words. I also didn't really need to sign even that first power of attorney," said Järvik.
"Thus the allegation in the press that failure to sign a power of attorney meant a substantial loss to the PRIA in litigation is incorrect," Järvik added.
"If the Minister of Justice had taken the view that a mandate was still needed, I would no doubt have continued to issue all the powers required. Thanks to the justice minister, I will continue to review all papers that reach my desk with the same critical eye, " he went on, noting that Urmas Arumäe's advice had also been to await the justice minister's response on the matter.
The original ERR piece in Estonian, including Raivo Aeg's letter to Järvik in full, is here.
Prime Minister Jüri Ratas (Centre) said Friday it was his intention to meet Järvik on Monday, to discuss both the Arumäe/PRIA situation, and an earlier controversy concerning exactly when Järvik became aware of Listeria bacteria implicated in the deaths of several people and traced to an Estonian fish processing plant.
Reform Party leader Kaja Kallas called for Järvik's resignation Thursday evening, by Monday, otherwise she would commence no-confidence vote proceedings.
Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE) leader Mart Helme has called the calling into question of Järvik's fitness for the role a witch-hunt, orchestrated by the prosecutor's office, the mainstream media, and the two opposition parties.
Editor: Andrew Whyte