Rural affairs minister Mart Järvik (EKRE), currently embroiled in two different controversies, says that he has done nothing to warrant resigning, adding that recent claims of mistruths and scandals are in fact the result of good work on the part of the opposition parties.
Appearing on ETV current affairs show Esimene stuudio, Järvik said that he was still the rural affairs minister, and thought that the current coalition of the Centre Party, the Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE) and Isamaa, would last its four-year course.
He added that should he be forced to step down from his post, it would probably mean the collapse of the coalition.
Prime Minister Jüri Ratas (Centre) announced about an hour before the Esimene stuudio broadcast (at 9.40 p.m.) that he had commissioned Secretary of State Taimar Peterkop to set up an investigation into Järvik's activities, which will take about 10 days to conclude.
An adviser Järvik hired in May was forced to resign Friday following revelations he had worked in his capacity as a lawyer to represent several defendants in a case where the plaintiff was the Agricultural Registers and Information Board (PRIA) a body under the rural affairs ministry's remit.
This led to claims of a conflict of interest in the EU subsidies fraud case, with rural affairs ministry Secretary General Illar Lemetti claiming Järvik had declined to sign a mandate which would have allowed the PRIA to claim damages. Järvik said that his authorization was not needed in this case, providing justice ministry correspondence to back up his case.
The second scandal involves questions surrounding Järvik's knowledge of Listeria bacteria, traced to a fish processing plant in Estonia and linked with the deaths of two people in the country, and several more Europe-wide, had already surfaced in October. Järvik said he did not know about the issue till mid-August, whereas ministry records show he was at a meeting at the firm, M.W.Wool, where the problem was discussed, as early as mid-June.
Järvik had been on a working trip to China when the PRIA story broke, returning on Friday evening to a barrage of media questions.
"The lies and the scandal that have been drummed up are actually the result of the good work of the opposition. They can easily get a badge," he added.
Järvik added that the commission the prime minister was about to set up was also a good thing, since it gives him a chance to clear his name and provide the necessary documentation, adding he had full party support from EKRE.
"My party supports me, and I have not done anything that I should resign for. The scandal has made it hard for the media to get sustenance, and this will be resolved if the commission does its job," he added.
Järvik also stressed the high stakes involved in the situation, echoing earlier comments by finance minister Mart Helme. On being asked by host Andres Kuusk if his resignation would mean the collapse of the coalition government, Järvik said: "Probably".
Järvik also said he had apologized to Jüri Ratas for claiming on social media that Ratas did not care about the evidence in the case following a meeting Monday evening, and had simply parroted Illar Lemetti's line.
He also said he will continue to seek to remove Lemetti from his post at the ministry, saying the latter was unfit for office and not someone he could work with, as well as praising Arumäe's work as his adviser.
Other stories to have appeared in the media in recent days regarding Järvik include revelations that he reinstated portraits of Soviet-era agricultural ministers at the ministry on Tallinn's Lai tänav, and had a VIP room at Tallinn Airport rented for use on his return from China Friday evening, which went unused, at a cost of approximately €400.
On Monday opposition Reform Party leader Kaja Kallas called for a vote of no-confidence in Järvik, the fourth in this parliamentary session after two against interior minister Mart Helme (EKRE) and one against former foreign trade and IT minister Kert Kingo (EKRE).
Both opposition leaders, from Reform and the Social Democrats, have spoken about a possible coalition collapse, with Kallas saying the likelihood was difficult to assess. Social Democratic Party leader Indrek Saar said the party leaders are discussing possible coalition alliances should the current lineup fall apart.
Isamaa chairman Helir-Valdor Seeder, the third party in the coalition, said a quick solution was in the interest of all three coalition parties.
The original Esimene stuudio broadcast (in Estonian) is here.
Editor: Andrew Whyte