Riigikogu committee chairs say US law firm deal should be scrapped ({{contentCtrl.commentsTotal}})

Parliamentary anti-corruption select committee chair Katri Raik (SDE).
Parliamentary anti-corruption select committee chair Katri Raik (SDE). Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

The heads of the Riigikogu's state budget control and anti-corruption committee Jürgen Ligi (Reform) and Katri Raik (SDE) say a controversial deal signed between the Estonian state and American law frm Freeh, Sporkin & Sullivan should be scrapped, as it presents a conflict of interest.

Both committes have finished investigating the contract signed with the American law firm, signed on June 27 and made public via a press conference in early July.

The deal, aimed at representing Estonia in money laundering legal cases in the U.S., caused controversy due to its confidential nature and claims that Louis Freeh, a former FBI director who was at the time senior partner at Freeh, Sporkin & Sullivan LLP, had previously acted on behalf of a Russian money launderer who had channeled money via the now-defunct Tallinn branch of Danske Bank.

Other issues included claims that finance minister Martin Helme (EKRE) had acted unilaterally in signing Freeh, who continues to represent Estonia while he has stepped down from the law firm that bears his name, and that taxpayer money would be used to pay the €3 million the deal cost, over a three-year period.

According to the opposition MPs, the hearings of the special committee of the Riigikogu, which culminated in an interview with Secretary of State Taimar Peterkop and the head of the Foreign Intelligence Agency Mikk Marran on Monday, have not recorded the agreement signed by Minister of Finance Martin Helme with American law firms Freeh, Sporkin and Sullivan.

Ligi and Raik say the matter has been handled in a non-transparent way, the previous recommendations of various state agencies have been ignored, and an agreement has been reached with an firm that has a conflict of interest in view of its previous ties with Russia.

"Louis Freeh is on the other side of the table, where the money laundering is related to Russia. The oligarchs, criminals, money launderers, banks, which were used in it. So on that basis, Freeh can't sit on our side of the table, it is not viable," Ligi said.

Ligi referred to a recent U.S. senate's intelligence committee report, which talks about Freeh's meeting with representatives of Russian authorities, the case of the suspected money laundering company Prevezon, and the scope for acting against the Magnitsky Act.

Ligi, a former finance minister, said that the deal with the law firmed should be annulled. "There is no way it could work, and that Freeh could actually represent Estonia, with his controversial opinions," he noted.

Katri Raik said that if the deal remains in place, the state is giving away taxpayers' money. "What kind of a result will we get from it, is very unclear because both the finance inspection and the prosecutor's office have been very skeptical of sharing their data," Raik said.

Raik added that the whole process has been sloppy from the beginning - all three law firm choices shortlisted were allegedly related to Russia. Two of them saw a conflict in the interest themselves, and pulled out.

"When holding a tender and two firms say that they don't have the competence to take on one and one company says that they are in debts, we shouldn't choose any of them, but will look for another one," Raik said.

If the deal should be canceled, the state would also be required to pay 2 percent of the fee, which is €60,000.

No member of any of the three coalition parties, Center, EKRE or Isamaa, attended the meeting on Monday, August 22, meaning it was not a formal sitting.

EKRE MP Peeter Ernits gave personal reasons for not attending. Ernits reportedly has a different view of the issue from opposition politicians, calling it a purely political struggle.

"Estonia has hired somebody whose reputation is very high at the U.S. Ministry of Justice and in the circles where decisions are made. And to present him to the public now as a 'Russian agent' - I repeat - we should call an ambulance," Ernits said of the matter.

Minister of Finance Martin Helme told ERR that in addition to canceling the agreement, they make a proposal that Reform leader Kaja Kallas become prime minister, and would not comment on the topic in more detail.

Arguments in favor of the deal include that Estonia will be able to both rehabilitate its image internationally, in the wake of the 2019 Danske scandal in particular, and that it will facilitate getting a cut of damages when money laundering cases are heard in the U.S.

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Editor: Roberta Vaino, Andrew Whyte

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