Acting based on a crime report filed by the Political Parties financing Surveillance Committee (ERJK), prosecutors have opened a criminal proceeding to establish the origin of a €50,000 donation made to the Center Party and the motives behind the donation.
The proceeding was started to investigate whether little known businesswoman Jana-Helen Juhaste has knowingly made a forbidden donation to the Center Party.
According to tentative information, what is known about Juhaste, including her official income, gives reason to doubt the origin of the money.
It is only with a criminal proceeding that it can be discovered whether Juhaste donated her own or someone else's money to the Center Party and what the precise origin of the money is, spokespeople for the prosecutor's office said.
Leading State Prosecutor Taavi Pern said no one has been declared as a suspect in the case.
"With the criminal proceeding we will check whether Jana-Helen Juhaste knowingly donated someone else's money to the Center Party. If the investigation establishes that this was the case, the agency conducting the proceeding must also establish whether the party was informed about the real origin of the money and whether there are bases to suspect the party of a criminal offense - the acceptance of forbidden donation," Pern said.
"The financing of political parties must be fair and transparent, the motives for making a donation must not be anything else than the genuine wish to support a political party," the prosecutor said.
He added that even though the Political Parties Act perhaps does not impose as strict obligations on political parties to check the origin of the money they receive as legislative acts related to money laundering, for instance, require from those active in some other fields, political parties too could think about it how to effectively exercise control over donations.
The investigation is supervised by the Office of the Prosecutor General and conducted by the Central Criminal Police.
The ERJK sent information about the donation to the prosecutor's office for investigation at the end of May, because it had suspected Juhaste was a front for someone else.
In April, ERR wrote that the Center Party collected €108,705 in financial donations in the first quarter, of which €50,000 euros were donated by Juhaste. The party said they did not know who the donor was.
On June 7, the party said it would return the donation due to unanswered questions.
Center is a member of the governing coalition with Isamaa and the Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE). The government also 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.
Korb: We will check donations more closely in the future
The Center Party has drawn its own conclusions from the case and in the future the members of the party's finance committee will evaluate large donations in order to eliminate all possible doubts about their transparency, the Secretary General of the Center Party Mikhail Korb said on Thursday.
"The decision of the Prosecutor's Office to initiate proceedings was as expected after the issues raised in the public, and we will cooperate fully with them in order to resolve the case quickly.
"I continue to confirm that the Center Party only accepts donations made for worldview purposes and legally. The party's finances must be clear and transparent, and the administration must not only be legally correct, but also appear to be so," Korb said.
Eesti Ekspress: Money from entrepreneur with business interests in Tallinn
Earlier this week, ERR News reported that weekly publication Eesti Ekspress wrote on Saturday that its sources suggest money donated in Juhaste's name is from Tallinn entrepreneur Martin Künnap who has various business interests in the capital and is in the middle of a legal dispute worth millions with the Tallinn Urban Environment and Public Works Department.
The paper suggests Künnap sits on the boards of more than 20 companies active in everything from parcel delivery to the rental business, wines, perfumes and e-commerce.
Eesti Ekspress reported the stakes are highest for Künnap in a real estate project involving the Tallinn Hippodrome (Tallinna Hipodroom) that a joint company belonging to Jaan Manitski, Mats Gabrielsson, Martin Künnap and his business partner Reigo Randmets called Hipodroomi 15 OÜ wants to turn into 100 apartments. The project is stuck behind a dispute with the city department.
Under the current hippodrome lies ground untouched by modern civilization. There are no power cables, water, sewage or storm water systems. Over the years, Manitski and Gabrielsson have tried to work with the city to create necessary infrastructure, while the partners have now decided to develop the first three systems themselves. Things are more complicated when it comes to the storm water system the construction of which in accordance with the city's requirements would cost €12 million. The developers are seeking a much cheaper system at €3 million where rainwater would be drained on the ground level.
Editor: Helen Wright