Justice minister: Helme was authorized to ink Louis Freeh deal
The government authorized finance minister Martin Helme (EKRE) in hiring a law firm to represent Estonia's interests in international money laundering investigations, justice minister Raivo Aeg (Isamaa) says. Previous reports had said Helme acted unilaterally.
Helme's announcement early on this month that U.S. firm Freeh, Sporkin & Sullivan LLP, and its senior partner, former FBI chief Louis Freeh, had been awarded the contract for two years, at a cost of €3 million, met controversy from the outset on the law firm's alleged representation of Russian money launderers and the irony that a few million euros-worth of the latter's ill-gotten gains had passed through the now-defunct Tallinn branch of Danske Bank. This was heightened by an investigative article in daily Eesti Päevaleht (EPL) which published yesterday.
Raivo Aeg noted that specific law firms had not been discussed at the time, and the selection process was entrusted with the minister of the corresponding field.
"This is a routine course of action," Aeg said, according to daily Postimees.
"[Louis Freeh] is a former director of the FBI, which should serve as a guarantee of his trustworthiness," Aeg added.
Prime Minister Jüri Ratas (Center) said that that Estonia needs to defend its positions in the U.S. proceedings.
"This is the reason why the minister of finance has made this choice," he said.
At a press conference Tuesday, Helme said that there was no conflict of interest with respect to Louis Freeh and his firm and that everything had been conducted above-board.
Further pushback against the deal revolves round the fact that its details have not been made public, that it makes use of taxpayer money, and Freeh's links to individual names connected with alleged Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
Two other (unnamed) firms were also in the running for the tender, but withdrew of their own choice, Martin Helme said. The two companies had significant business interests in Russia, he said, compared with Louis Freeh and his firm, which does not, according to Helme.
"Freeh, on the contrary, said that he does not have said business interests and that there is no conflict of interests," Helme said on a Kuk Raadio broadcast on Tuesday.
Louis Freeh himself denies having acted for the Russian company linked with the Danske money laundering episode.
The Estonian embassy in Washington had conducted a background check on Freeh, already a public figure given his tenure as FBI director during the Clinton administration and former work as a judge. Freeh was head of the FBI during the 1993 siege of the premises of a religious cult in Waco, Texas, in which 86 people died.
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Editor: Andrew Whyte