Finance committee chair: Bolt must look in mirror before requesting bailout

Riigikogu finance committee chair Aivar Kokk (Isamaa). Source: ERR

Isamaa MP and Riigikogu finance committee chair Aivar Kokk has hit out at Estonian unicorn taxi-hailing app firm Bolt's request for €50 million in relief from the Estonian state as the economic ramifications of the coronavirus pandemic affect business.

Kokk says Bolt should take a long look in the mirror, and ask itself if it has been an honest and law-abiding taxpayer during more hale times, adding that it has in fact evaded paying its full tax bill.

"In the case of Bolt … the question arises as to whether the state can still trust a company that has so far tried to evade taxes," Kokk said, according to a party press release.

"Bolt has been trying to evade the requirements and obligations of the Public Transport Act for years," he went on, later referring to alleged driver infringements.

Bolt says its revenue has dropped by 85 percent recently, and is asking for €50 million from the state. The company is losing €15 million per month, founder brothers Martin and Markus Villig  wrote to the government earlier in the week, adding its loan limit from credit provider KredEx of €5 million is not sufficient.

"The state will definitely support its entrepreneurs in difficult times," said Kokk.

"To this end, the government has developed a package of measures, which have already been approved by the finance committee and will hopefully be approved by the Riigikogu next week. At the same time, the precondition for receiving support is honest and law-abiding activities."

"Our goal is to support law-abiding entrepreneurs, but in the case of Bolt, past behavior and attitudes raise many questions. If I personally had to choose between supporting a company like [shipping line] Tallink and a company which enforces the law selectively, then of course I would support Tallink. My recommendation to Bolt is to look in the mirror before asking for money and ask themselves: Have we behaved ethically so far and do we deserve such support?"

Bolt provides a food ordering platform likely to have seen plenty of use since the emergency situation was declared last month, and also operates a courier service; its taxi hailing app is available in several countries worldwide, principally in Europe and Africa. It currently employees around 1,500 people, double the figure for 2018.

Bolt was charged with accusations earlier in the year that many of its taxi drivers did not comply with legal requirements. Sandra Särav, the company's Baltic-Nordic government relations responded to this, Kokk said he remembered.

Kokk also claimed that Bolt's founders – the company is headquartered in Estonia – had in 2017 opted to register their companies in Latvia, and in the previous financial year, prior to the current crisis, the company had made losses of €60 million, he said.

At the same time, Kokk did not rule out any kind of support for Bolt, calling for contrition, instead.

"Options to support the activities of a company exporting knowledge must surely be considered, but a change in Bolt's current attitude would also be a prerequisite for this. In the tax sector, fair competition and obedience to the law must be ensured, "concluded Kokk

Kokk also did not rule out the possibility that some companies might also receive larger loans from the state than provided for in the recent supplementary budget aid package, still at voting stage at the Riigikogu, adding that the state could also acquire a stake in some companies.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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