Outgoing minister: Center not legally culpable in Porto Franco case

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Center Party office in central Tallinn. Source: Siim Lõvi/ERR

Center Party board member and outgoing education minister Jaak Aab disagrees with his party's being named as a suspect in the real estate corruption investigation which led to the downfall of Jüri Ratas and the Center/EKRE/Isamaa coalition.

The party is taking legal advice, he added.

"We are currently negotiating with a law firm. Among the members of the board, Jaak Aab (i.e. the speaker – ed.) and [outgoing social affairs minister] Tanel Kiik are representing the party at the prosecutor's office," Aab ​​said.

Beyond that, Aab said he had no comment to make other than proceedings were ongoing.

Center was publicly named as a suspect in the Internal Security Service (ISS) investigation into a state loan to the Porto Franco real estate development on Tuesday, January 12.

Mihhail Korb stepped down as the party's Secretary-General on the same day.

The investigation as made public focused on dealings at state credit agency KredEx, following a €39-million loan made to Porto Franco in early September. Businessman Hillar Teder, a prominent Center donor, was also named as a suspect and allegedly struck a deal with Mihhail Korb to provide the party with €1 million in return for favorable conditions regarding access roads to the property, while finance ministry advisor Kersti Kracht is suspected of engaging in influence peddling. Kracht and Teder are currently detained but are appealing the relevant county court decision.

At the time the loan was made public, critics pointed out that KredEx had generally being making major loans – such as the €100 million granted to shipping line Tallink – to operating businesses hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic. Porto Franco is an unfinished property development which will combine retail, office, leisure and residential space, close to Tallinn's ferry harbor.

Mounting pressure on Jüri Ratas following the case being made public led to his resignation in the small hours of Wednesday, January 13, though Center are in negotiations to form a new coalition with the Reform Party.

Center has a suspended sentence to its name relating to a previous major donation found to be illicit, and was forced to return a suspect €50,000 donation last year.

Center is also the ruling party on Tallinn city government; a report in daily Eesti Päevaleht Wednesday said that the owners of Porto Franco were able to negotiate down the asking price for land to build access routes to a third of its asking price.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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