Finance minister and Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE) leader Martin Helme said on Tuesday that his party has never received money or any other rewards, following corruption allegations made surrounding a loan to a major Tallinn real estate development.
However, Helme has suspended his adviser at the ministry, Kersti Kracht, who is subject to a secret services investigation into suspected corruption.
Helme said: "Both personally and as a leader of a political party, I've always had zero tolerance for corruption. Such serious accusations naturally cause great concern and dismay for me."
Kracht is under suspicion from the Internal Security Service (ISS, also known as the KaPo) of influence peddling in the granting of a controversial €39-million loan to a Tallinn real estate development by state credit agency KredEx.
Writing on his social media account, Helme says he has been cooperating with both the ISS and the lead prosecutor in the case, following Tuesday's announcement that KredEx was under investigation.
Fellow suspect Mihhail Korb is set to resign from his post as Center party secretary general, party-mate Jaanus Karilaid said Tuesday. Kurb has previously resigned from a top post. In 2017, he stepped down as Minister of Public Affairs, following controversial remarks about NATO.
The other suspect in the ISS investigation who is a public figure is businessman Hillar Teder, who donated €60,000 to the Center Party in the third quarter of 2020 and then again in the fourth quarter, and whose son, Rauno Teder, is the majority shareholder of the Porto Franco development, in Tallinn's harbor district. Two other suspects have not been named and reportedly are not public figures.
Martin Helme said that he and his party "...have never expected, asked for or received money or any other rewards for any of our decisions," adding that KredEx activities: "...have undergone expert assessments, are covered by securities and have been granted consensual support by the government."
Porto Franco received the €39-million loan in summer, a move which faced controversy since KredEx loans had been granted to companies demonstrably hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. Porto Franco as an unfinished residential, office and retail real estate project has not yet been generating revenue.
Prime Minister Jüri Ratas (Center) exonerated himself from any suspicions while appearing on ERR radio station Vikerraadio's "Stuudios on peaminister" earlier on Tuesday, though conceded the Center Party was a suspect.
Isamaa leader: We expect explanations, concrete steps, from our coalition partners
EKRE is in office with Center and Isamaa. The latter have condemned corruption and say they expect an explanation from their coalition partners.
Isamaa leader Helir-Valdor Seeder said: "When it comes to the exercise of public authority, things must both be and appear honest. Isamaa does not tolerate influence peddling. The suspicions announced today by the prosecutor's office regarding the Center Party and EKRE politicians are extremely serious."
"We expect explanations and concrete steps from the Center Party and EKRE," he added, according to BNS.
Former foreign trade minister: I wasn't sure if Porto Franco would qualify for loan
Former Foreign Trade and IT minister Kaimar Karu, an EKRE appointee but not party member, told daily Postimees that while he was minister he had told Rauno Teder he was not sure if Porto Franco could qualify for a KredEx loan, though added that when it was forthcoming, the justification had been a promised European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) loan of €63 million for the project may have evaporated without it.
Karu was removed from office by EKRE in late April last year. KredEx green-lighted the Porto Franco loan in early September.
The investigation is ongoing.
Editor: Andrew Whyte