Prime minister summoned to appear before select committees over US law firm

Prime minister Jüri Ratas (Center).
Prime minister Jüri Ratas (Center). Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

Prime Minister Jüri Ratas (Center) has been summoned to appear before two Riigikogu select committees next week, in connection with the confidential agreement signed last month between finance minister Martin Helme (EKRE) and an American law firm.

Ratas, along with Chief State Prosecutor Taavi Pern and head of the Financial Supervisory Authority (FSA) Kilvar Kessler, have been requested to attend a joint session of the state budget control select committee and the anti-corruption select committee, to discuss the €3-million, two-year agreement signed between Martin Helme and law firm Freeh, Sporkin and Sullivan, in which the latter is to represent Estonian money laundering investigations.

Controversy surrounds the claimed use of taxpayer money to pay the company, the confidential nature of the agreement, and the fact that the firm's senior partner, Louis Freeh, a former FBI chief, had allegedly in the past represented a Russian money launderer who had chanelled several million euros via the now-defunct Tallinn branch of Danske Bank, epicenter of a major money laundering scandal which broke last year and led to the bank's closure in Estonia.

Freeh denies these allegations. He has since left Freeh, Sporkin and Sullivan but continues to work on behalf of the Estonian state, it is reported.

The meeting replaces one planned for earlier this week which did not take place due to a lack of quorum – coalition MPs, who make up around 60 percent of both committees, did not attend.

The Riigikogu is on summer recess but extraordinary committee meetings, and extraordinary full sessions, can be called.

Ligi: We're not inviting Martin Helme this time as he would be disruptive

The budget control committee is headed by Reform MP and former finance minister Jürgen Ligi; the anti-corruption committee is led by Social Democratic Party (SDE) MP and former interior minister Katri Raik.

Martin Helme himself said ahead of this week's meeting that there would not be a quorum meaning the meetings would not go ahead; he has not been invited to next week's sessions, Jürgen Ligi says.

"We are not expecting Helme on Monday, he would only disrupt the sitting," Ligi told daily Postimees, adding that the current finance minister was under suspicion.

"The situation is rather clear so far as he is concerned - he has done things wrong and made a decision against a background check by the Estonian state."

Martin Helme said the agreement contained "business secrets" meaning it was not for the eyes of MPs (government ministers do not sit in the Riigikogu – ed.), unless they submitted to seeing it under controlled conditions where devices, such as phones, capable of making recordings, would be forbidden.

Jürgen Ligi conceded that committee members may not be able to get to see the agreement before next week's meeting, though said he was pushing for that.

"In this case, we should be able to manage without hiding in the cupboard. The parliament is not a dangerous place," he said.

Coalition MPs, from Center, EKRE and Isamaa, who sit on the two committees, said variously that they had been unaware of this week's meeting, or had been having their car serviced.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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