Former Ministry of Foreign Affairs chancellor Indrek Tarand writes in daily Eesti Ekspress (link in Estonian) that current Minister of the Interior Mart Helme's (EKRE) career in the foreign ministry ended because he was caught by an internal audit in 2001 for the illegitimate spending of 500,000 kroons (€31,955.82). Helme rejects the allegation and says the entire story is fabricated.
Indrek Tarand, a former MEP, was a chancellor at the foreign ministry in 1994-2002. Mart Helme was assigned as Ambassador to the Russian Federation in 1995 by President Lennart Meri. He held the position until 1999, after which he returned to Estonia to work in the foreign ministry as deputy chancellor.
Tarand wrote on Tuesday: "He was caught by an internal audit for the illegitimate spending of 500,000 Estonian kroons (currency used in Estonia 1992-2010 - ed.)."
He noted that somewhat unexpectedly, former foreign minister and later president, Toomas Hendrik Ilves, stood up in Helme's defense and said the position of ambassador to Moscow was sensitive, which is why it is not reasonable to jeopardize Estonian-Russian relations, andit was this which convinced Mart Laar and Lennart Meri, prime minister and president in 2001, respectively.
Tarand also claims that construction entrepreneur Toivo Lepik was involved in the scheme, due to his and Helme's connection with Suure-Lähtru manor, which Mart Helme is the owner of. At a meeting between the three men, Lepik agreed that if Helme paid off the debt within three weeks, the story would not be published and Tarand would not pursue it as a potential crime.
Tarand added: "[Helme] has claimed in his later years that an ambassadors' pay at that time was large enough that the debt was not a problem to pay off."
Helme: Nothing in Tarand's story is true
Current Minister of the Interior Mart Helme responded by saying nothing in the story is true and there were no claims made against him in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for illegitimate spending.
Helme commented: "The money I used was part of my salary, and a loan. As an ambassador in Moscow, along with child support and the so-called Moscow coefficient, I made ca 60,000 Estonian kroons (over €3,800 -e d.) a month. When I returned to Estonia (in 1999 - ed.), my monthly wage was around 8,000 Estonian kroons (just over €510 - ed-). That wage gap was largely the reason why people wanted to work as diplomats."
Helme says he took 1 million kroon and 250,000 kroon loans from the Estonian Savings Bank in order to carry out renovations at Suure-Lähtru; he added that he has held on to all of the documentation regarding this.
Editor: Kristjan Kallaste