Prime Minister Jüri Ratas (Center) said during Riigikogu Question Time on Wednesday that the Center Party should have asked questions about Jana-Helen Juhaste's €50,000 donation back in January. Ratas said that had the donation been criminal in nature, he would have resigned as PM.
Chairman of the opposition Social Democrat Party (SDE) Indrek Saar asked Ratas about the €50,000 donation the Center Party received in January and declared in April. In May, the Political Parties Financing Surveillance Committee (ERJK) asked the prosecution to check whether the donation was in accordance with the law.
"You have had time to get up to speed. As we have read from the media, your party's top politicians, deputy chairmen, the secretary general and several other board members as well as top Centrists in Tallinn have tried to get to the bottom of the money's origin one way or another. You said as recently as last week that there is nothing criminal about that money to the best of your knowledge. And yet, an article was published in Eesti Ekspress on Saturday that caused you to change your mind and return the money. Could you please explain what were the new facts you read in the Eesti Ekspress article that members of the party and perhaps the person who made the donation had not shared with you and that caused you to change your mind? And could you please clearly say who the money you decided to return belongs to?" Saar said.
Ratas admitted that there had been a lot of questions regarding the sum. "Yes, indeed. I also think the fact the ERJK has asked the prosecution to look into the matter as you say is sensible – such things need to be verified if there are questions," the PM replied.
"Had I knowledge of anything criminal regarding that donation today, I would not be standing before you as prime minister – not because of a vote of no confidence, but because I would have resigned," Ratas said.
"I have no information to suggest there is anything criminal about the donation. There is not as far as I am aware – based on the information I have and the tools at the party's disposal for verifying such things," he added.
"In terms of why we returned it, the reasons are as follows. You referenced the Eesti Ekspress article. It was published on Saturday if I'm not mistaken and suggested the money was child support, and that money meant for children cannot be used in other ways. That was one of the things in the media. The other unanswered question or rather corresponding hints suggested that the woman's former partner had somehow secured favors in Tallinn by transferring the money. There were myriad unanswered questions, which is why we decided to return it. I have asked Tallinn's deputy mayor whether planning conditions have been changed regarding the project the article mentions. Their answer was that no changes have been made, nor is there any such intention. Who did the money belong to? To be honest, Mr. Saar, to the best of my knowledge, it belongs to that woman. It came from her bank account. And that is all the party knows," Ratas said.
The PM added that he has never tried to hide the fact the Center Party has had problems with financing. "It is our desire to leave these problems behind us, we have tried to do that. And I believe we did the right thing by returning the money in this case. I believe it was the right thing to do," the prime minister explained.
Ratas added that he has no information to suggest the money came from abroad or from a foreign resident. "A party cannot really verify anything beyond asking the sponsor whether the donation is in support of its worldview, whether it is their money and why have they decided to donate. We have asked her (Juhaste – ed.) those questions and her answers have in no way suggested any such scheme or foreign origin of financing," Ratas said.
"The Center Party could have done more. Yes, we should have asked those questions in January and not the end of May," Ratas said in closing.
Editor: Marcus Turovski