Committee chief: Freeh performance raised more questions than it answered

Riigikogu anti-corruption committee chair Katri Raik (SDE) at Monday's joint-committee meeting attended by Louis Freeh and Martin Helme.
Riigikogu anti-corruption committee chair Katri Raik (SDE) at Monday's joint-committee meeting attended by Louis Freeh and Martin Helme. Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

Riigikogu anti-corruption committee leader Katri Raik (SDE) says that the recent, surprise appearance before the committee of lawyer Louis Freeh, acting for Estonia in United States money laundering cases following a controversial deal, had raised more questions than it had answered.

As reported by ERR News, Louis Freeh arrived in Estonia Monday and appeared before two Riigikogu committees, the state budget committee, headed up by opposition MP and former finance minister Jürgen Ligi (Reform) and the anti-corruption committee, whose chair is Social Democratic Party (SDE) MP Katri Raik, also in opposition.

Freeh was present at the invite of finance minister Martin Helme (EKRE), who had inked the deal with the U.S. lawyer in summer.

Freeh's presence and that of two colleagues was somewhat of a surprise to committee members, Raik said, though his answers were not.

"Freeh and his two colleagues were surprise guests, and for that I would give minister Helme ten points. In itself, it was a very slippery trick to convey him here, and Freeh was able to tell us about his impressive biography and career and explained his relationship with Russian issues and money laundering issues," she said.

Raik said that the most important new information Martin Helme gave to the committee was the name of Estonian investment banker Ragnar Meitern, who was not only the initial contact with Freeh's office at Freeh, Sporkin & Sullivan, but was also listed in the offer submitted by Freeh as a team member at the law firm.

Acting as middle-man would not have come with a fee for Meitern, Raik said, though being listed as a legal team member would do.

"Helme considered it necessary to emphasize that the investment banker did not receive remuneration for this brokerage activity, but does receive a reward for being on the team. The question arises as to how such brokerage of the agreement is correct and legal," Raik, a former interior minister, stated.

Freeh, who no longer is a partner at the law firm that bears his name, told ETV news show "Atkuaalne kaamera" that his role was to clear Estonia's name internationally in the wake of money laundering scandals and to obtain a cut in any damages obtained in hearings in the U.S. - both facts already known.

Freeh also denied any conflict of interest in having been in involved in the Prevezon  case. The latter had funneled millions in potentially illicit funds via the now-defunct Tallinn branch of Danske, and has alleged Kremlin links – the main thrust of criticism of Freeh in the Estonian media.

Raik and Ligi wrote to prime minister on the issue two weeks ago

Raik said that Freeh and Helme's appearance before the committee had done nothing to change her view of the €3-million deal, which she says should be ripped up – something she and Jürgen Ligi stated in a letter to Prime Minister Jüri Ratas (Center) two weeks ago.

"Yes, I am [still of the same opinion]," Raik said.

The committee had earlier in September taken the same line.

"Instead, we would go on to sign a new agreement to advise the Estonian state on this issue for a reasonable fee, on the basis of a transparent tender, deciding before we pick up a lobby group or a legal service," said Raik."

The prime minister has 30 days to respond to the letter in question.

While Louis Freeh told AK Monday night that he felt the committee had been satisfied with his answers to questions, Katri Raik said that in Martin Helme's case the time-scale was too short to get fully to the bottom of things.

"We didn't get to question the minister thoroughly, but the minister left the door open and said he was willing to come back for further clarification. He promised a data - based printout of how the agreement was prepared and coordinated. This would further clarify the process of creating this agreement," said Raik.

Raik said that Freeh's contract still seemed to have been a done deal when it was signed in summer (two other law firms were reportedly in the late running – ed.), given the former FBI chief had met with Martin Helme in December last year.

Raik also questioned the need for the set-up given Estonian authorities have the relevant contacts in the U.S., and that the bulk of the fee to Freeh would be furnished before any conclusion had been found on whether Estonia would be getting any damages.

Raik concluded that clarity was still lacking, and that Martin Helme's answers, which she said were characterized by responses such as "not exactly", "I do not remember", "I do not know" or "That is not my job".

Jürgen Ligi had similarly said the hearing had done nothing to assuage the conflict of interest suspicions.

Riigikogu committees contain members from all five represented parties, and are generally led by opposition (Reform, SDE) MPs.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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