Supreme Court upholds 2014 land-swap case guilty verdict ({{contentCtrl.commentsTotal}})

Estonian Supreme Court building in Tartu.
Estonian Supreme Court building in Tartu. Source: Supreme Court

The Supreme Court has upheld a guilty verdict it had issued in 2014 over the so-called land swap case, overuling case review petitions submitted by Kalev Kangur, Toomas Annus and companies Järvevana OÜ and AS Kapitel, via their lawyers. The highest court in the land also dismissed a peitition filed by former environment minister Villu Reiljan's lawyer. Counsel for Toomas Annus had noted that the original judgment had contravened the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), as well as domestic law, at least in its evidence-gathering methods.

On June 30 2014, the Supreme Court upheld the criminal convictions of all defendants in the case, bar one, BNS reports.

As reported on ERR News, the Supreme Court had agreed to hear the complaints in February this year.

In a separate case, and part of the long-running Edgar Savisaar corruption hearings, Villu Reiljan had to pay the state €33,000 following a plea deal with the courts.

The Supreme Court's criminal chamber found the defendants guilty of accepting and giving gratuities, as opposed to bribes, but otherwise left penalties meted out by the second-tier [circuit] court intact.

The exception came with businessman Einar Vettus, whose case was terminated on a technicality.

The Supreme Court decided that it had been proven that former environment minister Villu Reiljan, Kangur and another former environment minister, Ester Tuiksoo, had accepted, or had agreed to accept in the future, assets, in return for influence in respect of their then-official positions.

Guilty of giving and taking gratuities, rather than bribes

The Supreme Court's criminal chamber found the defendants guilty of accepting and giving gratuities, as opposed to bribes, but otherwise left penalties meted out by the second-tier [circuit] court intact.

The exception came with businessman Einar Vettus, whose case was terminated on a technicality.

The Supreme Court decided that it had been proven that former environment minister Villu Reiljan, Kangur and Tuiksoo had accepted, or had agreed to accept in the future, assets, in return for influence in respect of their then-official positions.

The assets in question had been given or promised by businessman Tullio Liblik, former Tartu municpal officer Tarmo Pedjasaar, and businessman Toomas Annus, acting in the interest of the companies Merko Ehitus (now AS Järvevana) and E.L.L. Kinnisvara (now AS Kapitel).

The Supreme Court found that the actions for which Reiljan, Kangur and Tuiksoo were given or promised kickbacks were not A posteriori illegal, and that the defendants therefore were liable for the lesser charge of giving or accepting gratuities, not bribes, the difference being that a bribe is a reward for an unlawful act, in Estonian law.

The top court left the procedural costs related to the case review petitions to be borne by the defendants, i.e. Reiljan, Kangur, Annus, Järvevana OÜ and AS Kapitel.

A petition for review concerns a criminal matter in which a decision has entered into force but where new circumstances become evident which were not known to the court when the court's original judgment was passed.

Review procedure means consideration of a petition for review by the Supreme Court, in order to decide on potential resumption of proceedings in a criminal matter in which a decision has entered into force.

Petition details

Villu Reiljan:

  • Attorney Margus Mugu sought an annulment of the June 30 2014 Supreme Court decision, as well as the June 19 2013 Tallinn Circuit Court decision which found him guilty.
  • An alternative request was to leave an earlier judgment from the first-tier Harju County Court from exactly a year before the circuit court judgment, or at least the part of the judgment in which Reiljan was acquitted of charges.
  • Reiljan's lawyer also sought compensation for costs.

Kalev Kangur:

  • Lawyer Erki Kergandberg similarly wanted an annulment of those parts of the Supreme Court and circuit court judgments which related to his client, or the acquittal segment of the county court judgement from 2012 left in place, and costs.

Toomas Annus:

  • Leon Glikman, attorney for Annys went down the route of presenting a case that evidence in relation tohis client was collected using surveillance proceedings which breach Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, as well as domestic legislation.
  • Glikman also noted that the European Court of Human Rights, via a judgment on May 28, 2019, satisfied individual appeals from Toomas Annus, E.L.L. Kinnisvara AS/AS Kapitel and AS Järvevana/Merko Ehitus to that effect.
  • Glikman requested the resumption of judicial proceedings in addition to the annulment of the Supreme Court and circuit court judgments, or reversion to the county court acquittal. Alternatively, the Supreme Court could have annulled its own decision and bounced the case back to a first- or second-tier court.
  • Glikman also requested costs for both Annus and Järvevana/Merko Ehitus, and Kapitel AS/E.L.L. Kinnisvara.

The case against Einar Vettus was terminated due to the expiry of reasonable time on criminal proceedings, and the penalty imposed on former minister of agriculture Ester Tuiksoo was lifted for the same reason, BNS reports.

Petitions for review were filed by lawyers Leon Glikman, counsel for Toomas Annus, Jarvevana OU (formerly Merko Ehitus AS), and Kapitel AS (former E.L.L. Kinnisvara AS), Margus Mugu, defense lawyer for Villu Reiljan, Erki Kergandberg, counsel for Kalev Kangur.

The Estonian court system is organized on three tiers, starting with county courts, and progressing to the Supreme Court, via the circuit courts. The Supreme Court itself is located in Tartu.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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