Select committee tell Ratas agreement with Freeh must be annulled
Opposition MPs Jürgen Ligi (Reform) and Katri Raik (SDE) have made a proposal to Prime Minister Jüri Ratas (Center) to terminate the agreement concluded by the minister of finance with the US law firm Freeh Sporkin & Sullivan (FSS) due to the agreement being dysfunctional and incompatible with Estonia's interests.
The summary of the parliament's select committees' work is based on documents, inquiries to high-level officials, restricted and public materials, Raik told BNS on Wednesday. As the government coalition did not attend two meetings of the select committees, the report also includes materials collected without their participation.
Members of the select committees who are also members of the coalition largely did not use their opportunity to participate in the process by directing the collection of materials, inviting guests to sittings, ask them questions and so on.
The report was approved by three out of the five members of the anti-corruption select committee and no proposals were made in the report's approval round in the state budget control select committee.
Ligi and Raik said the minister of finance, Martin Helme, has repeatedly lied about the circumstances of signing the agreement and also misled the prime minister.
Raik noted that at this point, the select committees have concluded and summarized their work.
"The preparation process for signing the so-called Freeh agreement does not withstand criticism. I hope that the current long public discussion of this issue will prevent similar cases occurring in the future. The implementation of parliamentary control requires further attention as it is extremely complicated with the select committees' current composition. This is also the reason why the leaders of the select committees are turning to the prime minister as members of the parliament and not committee chairs," Raik said.
"This process has been Finance Minister Helme's one-man show along with a celebratory press conference; however, he has ignored all rules of public administration as well as any information that could interfere with favoring his personal preference or mitigate the state's risks. He has hampered the work of the Riigikogu and repeatedly lied to both the parliament and the public. As a result, Estonia's interest is now supposed to be represented by a person and his enterprise with whom Estonia's background checks have recommended not to have any official contact -- someone who has in the same money laundering case defended the interests of Estonia's opponent Russia and with whom Estonian authorities couldn't possibly imagine sharing their investigation findings," Raik said.
Author of the report Andres Sutt (Reform) said that the agreement signed with FSS is an example of how things should not be done in a state.
"Lack of transparency, inadequate preparation, virtually no cooperation between ministers and agencies, hindering parliamentary control, lies and misleading are incompatible with the core values of the Estonia society. The responsibility here unambiguously lies with the minister of finance and prime minister as the head of government," Sutt said.
Louis Freeh, former FBI director and leader of the American law firm Freeh, Sporkin & Sullivan - was hired to provide legal services to the Estonian state in international money laundering investigations.
A United States Senate report revealed he has had several contacts with Russian authorities and a company involved with money laundering.
On July 3, finance minister Martin Helme entered into an agreement with U.S. law firm Freeh, Sporkin & Sullivan LLP to provide legal services to the Estonian state in international money laundering investigations.
Helme said at a press conference the fee for the contract with the law firm is €3 million for two years. The terms of the agreement have not been made public.
An investigative piece published by daily Eesti Päevaleht on July 28 made the claim that lawyer Louis Freeh - a former FBI director - had previously represented Russian company Prevezon, which had allegedly laundered around €6 million via the now-defunct Estonian branch of Danske Bank.
Helme rejected EPL's claims, calling the article slanderous. He added that the agreement brought a front-rank U.S. law firm, which has also worked with the U.S. government, and with experience in international financial crime representation, on board for Estonia.
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Editor: Helen Wright