Estonian embassy in Washington: Freeh reputation not impeccable
A memo sent from the Estonian Embassy in the United States cast doubts on the reputation of Louis Freeh, a lawyer hired by finance minister Martin Helme (EKRE) to represent Estonia in interntational money laundering cases. Some of the embassy's sources had recommended avoiding close official contact with Freeh for that reason.
The Estonian embassy noted that Freeh, Sporkin & Sullivan LLP, which Freeh was a partner of at the time (he no longer is, though he continues to act on behalf of Estonia – ed.) was a law firm dealing mostly in commercial law, as well as representing other individuals and dealing with other law firms.
The memo was, however, notably critical of Louis Freeh, a former FBI chief, himself; ERR got hold of the memo, which reads as follows:
"Although the embassy does not have the opportunity to verify the various allegations by themselves, we can say in light of what has been gathered that Freeh's reputation in Washington is by no means impeccable, and several of those who have spoken to us have suggested avoiding close official contacts with Freeh. The embassy has not heard such assessments of the other law firms in question. "
The embassy therefore recommended opting for either of the other two law firms which were in the late running at the time.
Martin Helme signed the deal with Freeh in late June, though it is understood the two had been communicating since late 2019.
Freeh's role, by his own admission, is twofold: To represent Estonia in money laundering hearings in the U.S., principally in the State of New York, in an effort to restore Estonia's reputation following major money laundering scandals involving Estonian banks, and to obtain a cut of any financial damages arising from judgments.
The main bone of contention with Freeh doing that, other than the clandestine manner in which the deal was agreed and its use of taxpayer funds to pay the €3-million fee, is that Freeh had been involved in a money laundering case – the Prevezon case – with links to the Kremlin, some funds of which had passed through the now-defunct Tallinn branch of Danske Bank, the most notorious, and largest, component of illicit money flows thought to have passed through Estonian banks from the mid-2000s to the mid-2010s.
This represented a conflict of interest at the very least, it was argued.
Freeh told ERR earlier in the week that he had had dealings with Prevezon lawyers, but that this was normal activity in such cases.
Head of the Riigikogu's anti-corruption committee, Katri Raik (SDE) and of its budget committee, Jürgen Ligi (Reform) are both opposition MPs. Freeh, who had jetted in from New York especially for the session, and Martin Helme, appeared before both committees on Monday, though did not seem to assuage their misgivings about the deal.
In mid-May, the Estonian embassy in Washington said it was working in two directions in its background checks; contacts with the law offices on the shortlist, and approaching public sources as well as the embassy's own contacts.
The embassy concluded that Freeh, Sporkin & Sullivan's main strength was prior experience in courts and prosecutor's offices on the part of its partners, though its international experience – even though it had branches outside the U.S., including in London and Rome – was less broad than that of the two competitor firms.
Records show that foreign minister Urmas Reinsalu (Isamaa), Secretary of State Taimar Peterkop and Prime Minister Jüri Ratas' (Center) foreign advisor all received the memo, in addition to Martin Helme, ERR reports.
Both Freeh, Sporkin & Sullivan and the other two firms cooperated with the inquiries; the embassy also said it had the impression that all three had been contacted by Estonian state agencies in the past
The other two law firms had flagged potential conflicts of interest on their part, it is reported.
All three firms had in addition experience in investigating cross-border crime originating in Belarus, and representing plaintiffs in these.
While Louis Freeh is no longer a partner in the law firm bearing his name, he remains head of Freeh Group International Solutions LLC, which focuses on risk management and risk assessment.
Urmas Reinsalu acknowledged the receipt of the memo and that it contained information critical of Freeh, though added that it constituted background information and included assessments of Freeh based on private conversations.
Louis Freeh denied any conflict of interest when he spoke, on two separate occasions, to ETV news show "Aktuaalne kaamera" Monday, and noted surprise at the near-hysterical nature of claims made in the media and by opposition politicians about him or his former firm.
Freeh, 70, was Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) director during the bulk of the Clinton administration, 1993-2001. A former lead prosecutor, one of the most famous cases from his time in that role was the so-called Pizza Connection Trial, which prosecuted pizza parlor fronts used in large-scale mafia-controlled drug trafficking in the mid-1980s. One of the most noteworthy events during his time heading up the FBI came early on in his tenure, with the ill-fated siege of a religious cult group in Waco, Texas, in 1993. He was involved in a road traffic accident in Barnard, Vermont, in 2014, which left him with visible scarring about his left eye.
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Editor: Andrew Whyte