Prime Minister Jüri Ratas (Center) says that he is pleased that the prosecutor's office has opened a criminal investigation into a donation of €50,000 given to the party.
"In fact, I am very pleased that the prosecutor's office initiated it, because that is the only way to ascertain whether something improper has been done or not," Ratas, who is also Center Party chair, said Friday, speaking on business daily Äripäev's "Kuum tool" broadcast.
"I wish the prosecutor's office strength in any case. I have said that the Center Party is open [to the investigation]."
"The donor has told me that they are open. And this is best way to get the quickest solution," he added.
Ratas said that he had seen nothing so suggest anything criminal had been done regarding the donation – which Center returned to the benefactor – from a little-known business woman.
"To this day, I don't have any information behind it to suggest that there had been anything criminal," he added.
"I've talked to the secretary general (Mihhail Korb-ed.) about it, I've talked about it with the vice-chairs, a lot of board members. These are the people who run the party on a daily basis, in a party sense. No one has said that: 'Jüri, there's something wrong. And this is my conviction and my knowledge, to date," he went on.
The public prosecutor's office initiated criminal proceedings Thursday on the basis of information filed by the Political Parties Financing Surveillance Committee (ERJK) and in an attempt to get to the bottom of the source and motivation of the donation.
Ratas: Party could have been quicker to look into donation when it was made
The ERJK – which the coalition government headed up by Center is seeking to abolish sent the donation materials to the prosecutor's office for investigation at the end of May, as it suspected the donor, Jana-Helen Juhaste, was in fact passing on a donation from elsewhere and one which might have a quid pro quo attached.
The €50,000 represented nearly half of the total €108,705 Center received in the first quarter of 2020, and by far the largest single donation.
Ratas did say that the party should have reacted more quickly upon receiving the donation, in terms of verifying its origins and purpose.
"It should have been our duty to immediately check why this citizen is donating to the Center Party. Is it their personal money? Is it a "worldview" donation or is there something more sinister behind it? The Center Party really didn't do that [quickly enough]; We did on May 27, some time later, but here we can say that the Center Party should have acted more proactively."
Legal expert and practising lawyer Paul Keres said on Thursday's edition of ETV current affairs show "Aktuaalne kaamera" that in his view if it were proven Center were fully aware of the nature of the donation ahead of its being made, this would constitute an offense.
Mihhail Korb, the party's secretary general, said Thursday that he would be staying put and not stepping down, adding that ultimately this was a matter for the party's board. Party vice-chair and education minister Mailis Reps echoed that line.
The donation itself first appeared in media reports in mid-April.
Editor: Andrew Whyte