Tallinn to temporarily suspend subscription to PBK's Russian programs

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PBK microphone.

Tallinn City Office has turned to the Estonian Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU) to investigate if the city's contractual partner BMA Estonia and Russian TV channel PBK are tied to Russian oligarch Yury Kovalchuk, currently sanctioned by the European Union. The city cannot show any PBK programs until the assessment is finished.

"Until the Financial Intelligence Unit gives us an assessment, we cannot finish procuring Russian TV programs nor can we conclude contracts for programs for the new year," Mayor of Tallinn Mihhail Kõlvart (Center) said on Friday.

The city was notified of the necessity to check the Russian news channel by the Estonian Internal Security Service. "Tallinn's actions must be law-abiding but we do not yet know what we are expected to do. The city will turn to the FIU, so they could assess the question raised by the Internal Security Service of a possible connection between our contractual partner and European Union sanctions since the FIU is responsible for monitoring the implementation of international sanctions and not the local municipality government," Kõlvart said.

The mayor added that great effort has been made to inform the Russian-speaking population of Lasnamäe and Ida-Virumaa during the coronavirus pandemic.

"The Internal Security Service did not specify in their letter if Tallinn is violating EU sanctions with this contract, but rather asked Tallinn to check and acquire additional information if the city's contractual partner is involved with a sanctioned person," Kõlvart added.

The city office checked for the true beneficiaries of their contractual partner, international media group BMA Estonia, and did not find anyone on the list of persons sanctioned by the EU.

Tallinn City Office has not been able to determine on the basis of public and contractually acquired data if Baltic Media Alliance (BMA) Estonia OÜ is a subject of financial sanctions. Russian TV channel PBK (Pervõi Baltiiski Kanal) belongs to the BMA concern.

PBK's Russian-language news have been used since the end of March, when the coronavirus crisis began. The city justified the decision by saying Tallinn's residents needed an additional Russian-language source of information both during and after the emergency situation. In July, the city signed an agreement with the channel to broadcast city news until the end of the year.

According to an U.S. Department of the Treasury statement from 2014, Kovalchuk is "the largest single shareholder of Rossiya Bank and is also the personal banker for senior officials of the Russian Federation including [Russian president Vladimir] Putin. Kovalchuk is a close advisor to President Putin and has been referred to as one of his 'cashiers'."

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Editor: Kristjan Kallaste

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