Supreme Court: Center must pay €110,100 forbidden donation to state budget
The Administrative Law Chamber of the Supreme Court of Estonia rejected the Center Party's claim against a precept issued by the Political Parties Financing Surveillance Committee (ERJK) to pay €110,100 in forbidden donations into the state budget.
The Supreme Court found that the Center Party's inadequate accounting in 2014 and 2015 did not allow for the confirmation of the source of cash deposited in the party's account. The Supreme Court explained in its decision that parties' role in forming the parliament and in governing the state requires the full transparency of a party's finances.
Based on the Political Parties Act, in 2017, the ERJK issued a precept ordering the Center Party to pay a forbidden donation of €110,100 into the state budget.
Between January 1, 2014 and June 30, 2015, the Center Party deposited a total of €110,100 in cash into the party's bank account, the origin of which was unknown to the committee. Both the ERJK and an ERJK-appointed auditor had demanded accounting source documents from the complainant, the party did not produce them. As it was not possible for the ERJK to determine the source of the cash deposited by the party, the committee deemed the money to be an anonymous and thus forbidden donation.
The first- and second-tier administrative and circuit courts both rejected the Center party's claim against the ERJK-issued precept. The Supreme Court likewise rejected the Center Party's appeal in cassation, leaving the circuit court's decision unchanged.
The Administrative Law Chamber of the Supreme Court found that the backbone of the ERJK's precept was the fact that the source of the €110,100 in cash deposited in the party's bank account was unknown as the party's accounting did not meet legal requirements, was not transparent, and the Center Party did not submit accounting source documents proving the source of the money to either the ERJK or its appointed auditor.
The chamber found that, given the circumstances, it was reasonable to conclude that the cash which was allegedly from the party's cash box and deposited at the bank was of unknown origin and thus constituted a forbidden donation. The Supreme Court agreed with the lower-tier courts that the party's bookkeeping did not ensure the transparency of its cash transactions, as it did not allow for certain information regarding whether cash withdrawn from the bank account reached the party's cash box and whether the cash deposited in the count was from funds that had previously been withdrawn from the party's account and placed in its cash box.
The Supreme Court explained in its decision that parties' role in forming the parliament and in governing the state requires the full transparency of the documentation of a party's cash flows. According to the Political Parties Act, a political party is required based on the principle of democracy to ensure the legality and full transparency of its revenues and expenditures. It is not sufficient, however, for a party to record its cash balance as of the end of some specific period. If the requirement to verify cash balances were restricted solely to the requirement to submit documents regarding the balance as of the end of a reference period, it would not be possible to verify the origins of money that had moved through the party's cash box.
If a party withdraws cash from the bank and takes it to its cash box, or if it takes money from its cash box and deposits it into its bank account, in order to ensure the traceability of the party's revenues and expenditures, source documents meeting legal requirements laid out in the Accounting Act must be drawn up that, among other things, document each individual cash box transaction. This would make it possible, if necessary, to determine the source of all sums of money that end up in a party's cash box as well as the party's cash balance.
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Editor: Aili Vahtla