Riigikogu committees to sit Monday to discuss Martin Helme US law firm deal
Two Riigikogu committees are scheduled to meet Monday to discuss finance minister Martin Helme's (EKRE) agreement with American law firm Freeh, Sporkin & Sullivan. Prime Minister Jüri Ratas (Center) has been invited to the meeting, held on an extraordinary basis since the Riigikogu is on summer recess.
"On this occasion, we hope to find out what obstacles in the co-operation between Estonia and the U.S., and within the government, have caused the Minister of Finance to take on an unofficial role in delivering unilaterally, separately from Estonian state agencies and with the help of a US mediator," said chair of one of the bodies, the state budget committee, Jürgen Ligi (Reform).
"The task of the Riigikogu is to deal with parliamentary control. Hopefully, this process will show how communication between government and parliamentary committees, including those chaired by the opposition, will take place in the future."
Ligi added it had been striking that the prime minister has passed on responsibility in the task to the finance minister, who himself has withheld details on the deal and its operations.
"A clear picture must be reached regarding the agreement between the Estonian state and the U.S. law firm, in terms of the use of potential influence, prevention of money laundering, security and the use of state money," said Katri Raik (SDE), chair of the anti-corruption committee, also taking part in the meeting.
Martin Helme entered into an agreement with Freeh, Sporkin & Sullivan LLP, whose senior partner was former FBI chief Louis Freeh, to provide legal services to the Estonian state in investigations related to international money laundering.
The counsel should ensure Estonia gets its cut of any damages arising in the U.S. relating to money laundering, supporters say, by way of compensation for damage to Estonia's international reputation in money laundering cases such as the one which hit the now-defunct Tallinn branch of Danske Bank.
Criticisms have revolved around the confidential nature of the deal, the fact it makes use of taxpayer funds, and that Freeh had in the past acted for a Russian businessman charged with money laundering in the U.S., some of whose funds were channeled through the Tallinn branch of Dankse.
Freeh, who has since stepped down from the firm bearing his name, denies having acted for the Russian client.
The extraordinary joint meeting of the special committees will begin at 1.30 p.m. Monday.
In addition to the prime minister, chief state prosecutor Taavi Perm and Financial Supervisory Authority (FSA) chair Kilvar Kessler have been invited to the hearing.
A previous hearing did not take place due to a lack of quorum; finance minister Martin Helme did not attend, and many coalition MPs on both committees said they were unaware that it had been due to take place.
The Ministry of finance has since said that Freeh, Sporkin & Sullivans work would be divided into three stages, an action plan and assessment of the investigation procedure, followed by involvement with the relevant authorities in Estonia, with support in negotiations with U.S. authorities -. including the Department of Justice and Finance, banking regulators, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), and the New York State Department of Financial Services - making up the third stage.
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Editor: Andrew Whyte