Lawyers in Savisaar corruption case say acquittals only right outcome

Harju County Court.
Harju County Court. Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

Reaction to Tuesday's conclusion on the long-running Edgar Savisaar corruption trial at Harju County Court, which saw over two dozen co-defendants stand, including the Center Party, whittled down to a final four, come from the defendants' lawyers, as well as the prosecutor's office, which intends to pursue the case at the second-tier circuit court.

Edgar Savisaar is a former mayor of Tallinn whose own on-off case was ended in December 2018 on health grounds. Due in part to the complexity of the case, the prosecutor's office opted to hive off various aspects of it, and it is the last of these which reached its conclusion on Tuesday.

The co-defendants had faced charges of embezzlement, bribe taking and giving and other corruption misdeeds, with evidence being gathered from as far afield as Marbella, Spain, during the course of proceedings.

Three defendants, businessmen Aivar Tuulberg, Alexander Kofkin and Vello Kunman were acquitted despite the prosecutor's office seeking real jail time; a fourth co-defendant, Kalev Kallo, received a suspended sentence.

Aivar Tuulberg

Lawyer for Aivar Tuulberg, who stood accused of giving bribes to former Tallinn mayor Edgar Savisaar, Indrek Leppik, said that his client's acquittal was the only possible outcome.

Aivar Tuulberg (right). Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

"When a crime has not been committed, the prosecutor's office will not be able to provide evidence of it either. It is that simple in a competitive procedure. I am pleased that Tuulberg was acquitted by the court," Leppik told BNS, also expressing regret at what he said was intrusiveness into his private life, including the use of a sniffer dog at Tuulberg's home and the involvement of the Internal Security Service (ISS) who transported Tuulberg by helicopter from Tartu for further searches, all actions which he called gross misconduct.

"Such things should not happen in a democratic country and hopefully will not happen again," Leppik said.

Vello Kunman

Kunman's lawyer Paul Keres said that his client's acquittal on Tuesday was also 100 percent the right decision.

"I believe that … [Tuesday's] court ruling regarding Vello Kunman's acquittal was 100 percent right from any angle," Keres told BNS.

Vello Kunman. Source: Ken Mürk/ERR

"As I recall, the whole accusation against Vello Kunman was based on a fiction from Villu Reiljan, which was supposed to be the response for a lighter punishment [for Reiljan]," he added.

"Even if we were to take Reiljan's fabrication as truth and start building a verdict on that, it would have to have been taken into account that the Penal Code prescribed no punishment for the kind of act Kunman was accused of," Keres added.

Kunman was charged with offering bribes to Edgar Savisaar.

Alexander Kofkin

Alexander Kofkin had his proceedings terminated on the grounds that the limitation period had been exceeded.

Aivar Pilv, the lawyer defending Kofkin, also said the termination of proceedings his client was the only appropriate solution. Kofkin's charges related to giving bribes to Savisaar.

Alexander Kofkin. Source: Siim Lõvi/ERR

"In my judgment, the evidence did not support the charges as they were all based on speculation," Pilv told BNS. 

Kalev Kallo

Kalev Kallo was the only defendant of the four to receive a sentence - he must serve a conditional sentence of one year and six months.

Kalev Kallo. Source: Siim Lõvi/ERR

Kallo's lawyer Kristi Rande told BNS that she will definitely contest the ruling of the county court, at the circuit court, the second tier in Estonia's court system.

"I will contest the county court's verdict at any event," she said, according to BNS.

Judge's comment

Following the summing up of the court verdict, county court judge Anne Rebane said that, regarding Tuulberg and Kunman, the court found that there were no necessary elements of a criminal offense present in their activity, but with Kofkin, reasonable processing time had in any case either been exceeded or is about to be exceeded.

Prosecutor intends to take case to circuit court

Chief State Prosecutor Taavi Pern said the prosecutor's office, having taken into consideration the deliberation of the case, will also pursue matters at the Tallinn Circuit Court.

Pern told BNS that 13 of the initial 25 suspects in the long-running criminal case had been positively identified as having committed the act they were charged with.

State Prosecutor Taavi Pern. Source: Siim Lõvi/ERR

"With the ruling today [Tuesday], this number rose to 14. When it comes to such complex proceedings, verdicts are usually contested, and we were therefore aware that the criminal case will continue after the declaration of today's verdict as well," Pern said.

Pern added that it is difficult to issue longer comments following the declaration of the county court's conclusion, as the prosecutor's office does not yet known the court's arguments regarding the acquittal or the expiration of reasonable processing time.

"Most surprising, perhaps, was the court's verdict regarding the expiration of reasonable processing time, as the defense had repeatedly made this request during the court proceedings and so far the court had not satisfied it," he added.

"However, Kalev Kallo's conviction in mediating bribes indicates that the first-tier court has by now found in general proceedings as well that the events described in the charges have taken place and that there has been a chain of bribery the participants of which have been the Center Party, Hillar Teder and Kalev Kallo," Pern said.

Pern nonetheless noted positive aspects to proceedings, in his view, in terms of societal attitudes towards corruption, and also prohibited donations to political parties. The Center Party, which stood as a co-defendant earlier in the case as well, itself seems to have changed, he added, noting this was reflected in speeches made by party leader and prime minister, Jüri Ratas.

The Office of the Prosecutor General is to notify Harju County Court of its wish to submit an appeal, according to BNS.

Other details

The court released seized cash belonging to Edgar Savisaar, whose own trial was wound up last year on health grounds, to the amount of €80, which is to be returned to him upon the entry into force of the court judgment. The court also ordered the state to pay Savisaar legal costs incurred of a little over €3,200.

Defense counsel for all the persons standing trial affirmed during litigation, which ended in October of last year, that charges by the prosecutor's office had not been proven and the defendants had not committed the crimes they were charged with.

Background to the case

As reported on ERR News, conclusion to the case, which involved several other co-defendants as well as former Tallinn mayor Savisaar, was due Tuesday.

Harju County Court said that the sentence of one year and six months handed to Kalev Kallo will not be enforced provided he does not commit a new intentional crime during the probation period of two years. Kallo was ordered to pay procedural expenses of €876. He was acquitted of other charges concerning an illegal donation (to the Center Party-ed.), according to BNS.

The prosecutor had sought three months' real jail time for Kallo, plus conditional sentence and a probation period, and the same amount of jail time for Tuulberg and Kofkin, with two year's probation, and a one-year conditional sentence and two year's probation for Kunman.

Other co-defendants including Savisaar himself had already seen conclusions to their hearings (see below).

On June 18 of last year, businessman Hillar Teder admitted in Harju County Court that he had covertly financed the Center Party in 2014, and was released from trial on the grounds of expediency. The court acceded to an application by the prosecutor's office, terminated proceedings against Teder on the grounds of expediency, and ordered Teder to make a penalty payment of €200,000 to the state.

On the same day, the court separated the materials of the criminal case concerning the Center Party, which was also a co-defendant, into separate proceedings, as the Center Party desired to enter a compromise procedure with the Office of the Prosecutor General, which led to a financial penalty of €25,000. A much larger sum the party had originally been hit with, about ten times that amount, was suspended.

Savisaar, 69, was suspended from office in autumn 2015, and was later freed from trial on corruption charges due to his bad health; the on-off trial whose preliminary proceedings started in early 2017, had been dogged by his health issues causing a halt in proceedings. The hearings had passed up all three levels of Estonia's court system – the county court, the circuit court, and the Supreme Court.

The Office of the Prosecutor General had brought charges against Savisaar for accepting bribes, money laundering, embezzlement on a large scale, and accepting prohibited donation on behalf of the Center Party. 

Former City of Tallinn official Priit Kütser stood on trial charged with aiding embezzlement activities, but proceedings were concluded for reasons of expediency. 

The Savisaar corruption case hearings began in Harju County Court on June 12, 2017, where the defendants said that they understood the charges but did not plead guilty. 

Villu Reiljan, former minister of environment, had pleaded guilty and the court decided to hive off the charges related to him from the main case to carry out a compromise procedure, which resulted in him having to pay the state €33,000. 

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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