Vikerraadio broadcast: Savisaar trial finished, but not over

Judge Anne Rebane at Harju Court earlier this week.
Judge Anne Rebane at Harju Court earlier this week. Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

The recent conclusion of the long-running Edgar Savisaar corruption case, named after the former Tallinn mayor and Center Party co-founder, but involving far more individuals as co-defendants, including the Center Party itself, demonstrates there is still room for improvement, claim some journalists. At the same time, the case might not be completely closed, the commenters thought.

Speaking on Saturday's Vikerraadio "Rahva teenrid" broadcast, Heidit Kaio said that: "It has to be assumed that this is an interim finish. We cannot yet speak with certainty about convictions or acquittals, circumstances can change."

Rulings earlier in the week at Harju County Court saw just one of the final four co-defendants, Center Party MP Kalev Kallo, being handed a  conditional sentence of one year and six month. Three others,  Aivar Tuulberg, Vello Kunman and Alexander Kofkin walked free; the latter's case was terminated having exceeded its time limit. The prosecutor had sought real jail time in most cases.

The trial of Savisaar himself was wound up on health issues in 2018, after passing up all three tiers of Estonia's court system. The other co-defendants met with variety of different conclusions ranging from plea bargains to termination of the case - which concerned various corruption issues including the giving and taking of bribes, illicit Center Party donations, and alleged money laundering. The Center Party, whose fragile finances have been subject to plenty of media coverage, had to pay €25,000. A much larger sum the party had originally been hit with, about ten times that amount, was suspended. 

According to Kaio, the recent decision can be welcomed by lawyers. The former Tallinn mayor's seeming evasion of justice should also be taken as a sign, Kaio said, in contrast to his earlier, untouchable image.

"The fact that he was able to be brought to justice seemed an important step, since a decade before the media hadalready voiced doubts that [Savisaar's] lifestyle exceeded his income. Everything indicated that money was coming from elsewhere, along with the fact that the Center Party's advertising campaigns were modest," Kaio said.

Kaio added that the process nevertheless had cleared the air.

"Five years ago, the main question is whether the prosecutor's office went too far," said Taavi Eilat, also taking part in the discussion..

Now, it had been proved that the Center Party received hidden money and the party has acknowledged that, according to Eilat.

"However, the business-related aspects have not been proven," Eilat added.

Enter Jüri Ratas

Eilat noted that thanks to the trial, Jüri Ratas became prime minister and the Center Party has changed at least in part. 

Savisaar, 69, was suspended from office as Tallinn mayor in autumn 2015 , with Jüri Ratas later becoming Center leader. Following a vote of no-confidence in then-Prime Minister Taavi Rõivas (Reform) in November 2016, the junior coalition partners, Isamaa and the Social Democratic Party (SDE) switched their support from Reform to Center, making Ratas prime minister.

Ratas remained prime minister following the March general election despite Refrom winning the highest number of seats, with the Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE) replacing SDE in the coalition.

Ratas has been seen as somewhat of a cleaner-up of the party and its image, though many of the old guard remain, including Kalev Kallo, Eilat pointed out.

The Chancellor of Justice, Ülle Madise, stripped Kalev Kallo of his parliamentary immunity in May last year, having got the green light to do so from the Riigikogu.

Center accepted culpability

Another journalist appearing on the show, Aivar Hundimägi, recalled that the Center Party accepted the guilt or admitted the violation of the law. 

"However, tycoon Hillar Teder also pleaded guilty, as well as Villu Reiljan, who essentially accepted the guilt and went to a settlement, as did Paavo Pettai."

On June 18 of last year, the same day as Centre was ordered to make its payment, businessman Teder admitted in Harju County Court that he to covertly financing the Center Party in 2014, and was released from trial on the grounds of expediency, though also had to make a payment of €200,000 to the state.

Pettai's company had made the transfer to Center's account (totaling €250,000), ostensibly for a share in a property purchase in Tartu.

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

According to Hundimägi, the question mark remains over Kalev Kallo's guilt. He noted that when Kallo was transferring money to the Center Party, he had to constitute a donor.

"Savisaar was the biggest loser in the trial," Hundimägi added.

"He was ousted from power in Tallinn and from the party. In the end, that's [his] punishment," Hundimägi continued.

Chief State Prosecutor Taavi Pern has said the prosecutor's office intends to pursue matters at the Tallinn Circuit Court, the next level in the court system in Estonia and relating to Kaio's radio remarks that the story may not be over yet.

The original "Rahva teenrid" broadcast (in Estonian) is here.

Editor: Andrew Whyte

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