Rural affairs minister resigns after less than two weeks on job

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Minister of Rural Affairs Martin Repinski (Center) answering questions at a press conference last Friday. Nov. 25, 2016. Source: (Siim Lõvi/ERR)

On Monday night, the leadership of the Center Party had begun discussing the matter of Minister of Rural Affairs Martin Repinski continuing in his position as minister following the surfacing of two scandals involving him. Unable to reach a final decision on the matter, they planned to continue discussing the matter on Tuesday evening. Repinski preempted the final decision, however, when he handed in his letter of resignation to Prime Minister Jüri Ratas on Tuesday.

Investigative weekly Eesti Ekspress published an article the day that Ratas' government was sworn into office alleging that the Repinski-owned Konju Organic Farm had sold goat cheese labeled as an Estonian product despite part of it being ordered from Dutch company De Molkerei. Repinski responded to the allegations by denying any fraud, claiming that no Konju Farm products sold in Estonian stores contained cheese sourced from the Netherlands.

It was then reported on Friday that the Ida-Viru County Court had found Repinski guilty of attempted fraud as a minor. According to the court judgment to which ERR had access, on Aug. 12, 2002, the Ida-Viru County Court found Repinski guilty of attempted fraud in the course of a settlement in a simplified proceeding, sentencing him to a conditional three months in prison and one year of probation. According to Repinski, he was very sorry for what he did.

"It's clear that loose ends have remained from my activity as a business-owner and my earlier life which need to be addressed," Repinski said in a press release. "The performing of the duties of a government minister definitely doesn't allow for this, as in [performing these duties] one must focus 100 percent on the opportunities and concerns of Estonia's rural life and agriculture. Therefore I will resign from the office of minister and continue working as a member of the Riigikogu. I will put these things related to my farm in order so I can properly hand over its day-to-day management."

The minister said that the Center Party and his fellow partymates have provided him with plenty of support. "The Center Party has great potential to be the leading political force outside of major population centers and among farmers as well," Repinski continued, noting that the party's rural affairs policy, which he would begin supporting the implementation of in the Riigikogu, was highly valued. Repinski, an ethnic Russian, also noted that "My appointment demonstrates that the Center Party indeed takes an equal approach to Estonian residents of different ethnicities."

Names that have been informally mentioned in the context of replacing Repinski as Minister of Rural Affairs include Tarmo Tamm, Erki Savisaar and Kersti Sarapuu. The Center Party's leadership is slated to convene again at 8 p.m. on Tuesday.

Reps: Center Party leadership agrees with Repinski’s decision

Deputy chairman of the Center Party and Minister of Education and Research, Mailis Reps, said on Tuesday evening that the leadership had very clearly expressed its support of Repinski’s decision to step down as Minister of Rural Affairs.

Repinski had made this decision thinking of the state and the party. The ministry’s policy area needed to improve. “All of these issues around his personality are hampering this,” Reps said.

The problem hadn’t been Repinski’s past though, Reps added. As a person, he had been successful, and had had recognition for his work in the past as well, from ministers of rural affairs among others.

According to Reps, the Center Party’s leadership has not yet discussed the matter of Repinski’s successor.

Several farmers’ unions expressed their support of Repinski last weekend, writing an open letter to Prime Minister Jüri Ratas (Center) pointing out that in the past, the Ministry of Rural Affairs had been run by people with little appreciation of the agricultural industry. Repinski knew their business inside out, and hence was a strong asset, they wrote.

Editor: Editors: Aili Sarapik, Dario Cavegn

Source: ERR/BNS

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