Court returns former rural ministry adviser case to prosecutor's office ({{contentCtrl.commentsTotal}})

Urmas Arumäe.
Urmas Arumäe. Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

Harju County Court has sent back a conflict of interest case concerning former Ministry of Rural Affairs adviser Urmas Arumäe, citing technicalities, Baltic News Service reports. The case involved alleged European Union benefits fraud.

The court agreed with Arumäe's legal counsel, Aadu Luberg, that the statement of charges is not sufficiently clear and traceable, and does not meet the requirements of the Code of Criminal Procedure.

As a result, the court returned the statement of charges to the prosecutor's office for the shortfalls to be eliminated.

"In said case the content of the evidence that the prosecutor's office wishes to be examined at the court sitting is already partly known to the court from information provided in the statement of charges," the court said, BNS reports.

"This, however, is in contradiction with the principle valid in general procedure, according to which the court will become familiar with the content of evidence only after the evidence has been presented and accepted in judicial examination," the court added.

Arumäe has been charged with a violation of a procedural restriction on a notably large-scale basis, meaning to a degree that would cover a value in excess of €400,000.

According to the statement of charges the prosecutor's office forwarded to the court in May, Urmas Arumäe in his capacity as a state official, advised then-minister of rural affairs Mart Järvik (EKRE) on legal matters, while simultaneously serving as a lawyer for suspects in a criminal investigation whose plaintiff was the Agricultural Registers and Information Board (PRIA, which falls under the Ministry of Rural Affairs' purview.

The controversy contributed to the eventual removal of office of Mart Järvik, in late November 2019.

The North District Prosecutor's Office opened a criminal investigation in November last year to find out whether the adviser may have participated as an official in decision-making and substantive directing of decisions in relation to persons connected with him, other words a conflict of interest.

Specifically, Arumäe advised the minister on the granting of authorization to PRIA in the criminal proceeding, while serving as counsel for suspects in the same criminal investigation.

PRIA was asking the Ministry of Rural Affairs for authorization to reclaim €1.1 million money paid out in EU investment support from Arumäe's clients.

On becoming adviser to the minister, Arumäe resigned as lawyer representing the individuals in the sense of legal persons, but not in the legally distinct sense of physical persons.

"The prosecutor's office finds that the withdrawal of Urmas Arumäe from the role of attorney was only for appearances, since while he did discontinue representing legal persons, he continued serving as lawyer for physical persons, who had sat on the boards of the same companies. In addition, another lawyer working at the same law office started to represent the legal persons. In this way, the legal persons continued to be connected with Urmas Arumäe," prosecutor Leelet Kivioja said, according to BNS.

According to the prosecutor's office, Arumäe must have been aware of the economic interest of his clients, meaning his clients' desire was not to have to repay the support, which may have influenced his decisions as adviser to Mart Järvik.

This means Arumäe was aware of the risk of corruption in the meaning of the Anti-Corruption Act, the prosecutor's office says. 

"In any case, an official must immediately inform their immediate superior about a procedural restriction, which the person accused did not do in said case," Kivioja added.

Arumäe himself stepped down from his post at the rural affairs ministry in November, following the revelations.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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