Center Party General Secretary Mihhail Korb says that he is not planning stand down in the wake of a donations scandal which has hit the party, though added that this was a matter for Center's governing board.
Korb also said on Thursday morning that it could not be stated that he had had nothing to do with a donation of €50,000 made earlier in the year to the Center Party, which has now led to the initiation of criminal proceedings by the Public Prosecutor's Office following speculation about its legal status.
"There are criteria for what donations must constitute. They must be made by and on behalf of an Estonian citizen. All these requirements were fulfilled, and the donation complied with all legal requirements," Korb said.
Korb, whose role as secretary general includes handling financial donations and party finances more broadly, ERR's online news in Estonian reports, said that he would continue in his post, which was a matter for the Center Party's board.
"I will work as long as the [Center] board has faith in me. My resignation would not add any clarity to the situation. But this will be discussed by the board, which will happen next. When there is clarity, decisions will come," he went on.
Korb later said the donation, of €50,000, which had come from a little-known private citizen, had come as a surprise, but added the party's practice at that time was to review whether donations had been made in accordance with the law.
"If the board considers that not contacting the donor immediately is a sufficient reason for me to resign, then of course I will," Korb said, noting that in the future all donations from the Center Party exceeding €3,000 will be discussed by the board.
On Thursday morning, the public prosecutor's office announced that in order to establish the origin of the €50,000 donated to the Center Party and the motives for making the donation, the Public Prosecutor's Office initiated criminal proceedings on the basis of information contained in the Political Party Financing Supervision Committee (ERJK).
In April, ERR reported that the Center Party had collected €108,705 in financial donations in the first quarter of 2020, of which €50,000 was donated by a little-known entrepreneur, Jana-Helen Juhaste.
Center announced at the weekend that it would be returning the €50,000 donation.
Mailis Reps: No reason why Korb should have done anything different at the time, no reason to doubt donor's story
Education secretary Mailis Reps, who is also Center's deputy chair (Prime Minister Jüri Ratas is chair) said that the matter would certainly be discussed at party board level.
"I couldn't say today whether Korb should have reacted immediately to the donation," Reps said, at Thursday's press conference at Center's head office on Narva mnt in Tallinn, where she spoke alongside Korb.
However, we will definitely discuss it in the board. And if it is clear in the prosecutor's office that the office did something very wrong, then responsibility must be taken," Reps said.
Korb and Reps both said they had no doubt that the donation could have been motivated by reasons other than those the donor had claimed.
"Now it's known we're asking the tax office about the person who made the donation if she had the income required to make that size of donation. But before that, we didn't have that practice in place," Korb said.
Reps said she has spoken to the donor three times, and has no doubts about the accuracy of her story, a claim Korb agreed with.
"On May 27, we had a long conversation and she was very convincing. I understood very clearly why she made this donation. Now, after communicating with them three times, I have no doubt that she has any motive other than what was stated," said Reps.
The donation concerned money received by the donor from her ex-husband retroactively, Reps said.
Reps replied to media allegations that the donor's ex-husband's business interests in Tallinn could be the real cause for the donation, saying that this has not been confirmed so far.
She added that she had not talked to Deputy Mayor Aivar Riisalu, also of Center, who had met with the donor's ex-husband, but rather the mayor of Tallinn, Mihhail Kõlvart, who is a member of the party's board, and who had assured her that the city did not plan to assist in the donor's business interests.
Center is in the coalition with Isamaa and the Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE). The government wants to pass a bill which would abolish the body responsible for monitoring political party finances, the ERJK, placing its role under the National Audit Office (Riigikontroll) instead.
Editor: Andrew Whyte