"AK. Nädal": Is the new government normalizing corruption?

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Stenbock House, seat of the government. Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

The Reform Party started coalition negotiation with the Center Party a day after the party resigned due to corruption allegations. ETV's weekly current affairs show "AK. Nädal" looked at whether the Reform Party is normalizing corruption when forming the new government and what it will mean for the new government.

Elmar Sepp and Ivo Parblus, the eastern money scandal, former Prime Minister Edgar Savisaar and now Hillar Teder and Porto Fanco are all chapters in the long and shady story of the Center Party's party finances. Removing Savisaar as chairman did not entirely remove corruption scandals from the party as was hoped by many.

But what about the Reform Party? How aggressively should they be reminded of their own previous funding scandals? For example, the owner of the Väinamere ferry line Vjatšeslav Leedo's "lemon" scandal where €4 million was offered for political support from Reform Party member Aivar Kiil in 2014.

Or what about the incoming Minister of Finance Keit Pentus-Rosimannus' Autorollo scandal? The allegations centered on a trucking company owned by Väino Pentus, Keit Pentus-Rosimannus' father, which was quickly drained of money over a short period between 2010-2011.

A large amount of money was withdrawn from the firm's account and some of the bank transfers were made from the personal IP addresses of Keit Pentus-Rosimannus' computers. Pentus-Rosimannus was Estonia's foreign minister between 2014 to 2015.

Väino Pentus testified in court during the civil case that part of the money intended for Autorollo was used to build Pentus-Rosimannus's house in Tallinn's Viimsi district instead. 

The Chief-Editor of Delfi and Eesti Päevaleht Urmo Soonvald told "AK. Nädal" that neither of the parties will completely get over their scandals.

"The Center Party currently has to deal with the scandal very actively and I think that it weakens them as the elections come closer. And when we look at the last 10 years for the Reform Party, then we definitely find stains that no party would like to have," he said.

At the same time, Soonvald highlights that EKRE and Isamaa, which are now actively playing the corruption card, were in coalition with the Center Party for the last two years.

Even when taking corruption into consideration, the political reality needs to be considered as well, he said, which means that the government has been formed by those with the most votes.

Rein Lang, a former member of the Reform Party and a minister, has the same approach: "101 is a magical number [the number of seats in the Riigikogu - ed.] in which, calculations are required and two partners are definitely better than three."

Lang said it would be naive to think the last government collapsed only due to the Porto Franco corruption allegations. "Tensions had been gathering for a long time, which nobody is denying today. These tensions were piling up and everybody held their heads in their hands when another episode of the Helmes' radio show had been aired."

Lang added that it is important to see who is talking the most about corruption. "The parties who were left out of the coalition negotiations are now trying to talk about a big corruption case forgetting about everything they have done during the last years, but this is all the beauty of the game."

The head of the non-profit organization Korruptsioonivaba Eesti (Corruption free Estonia), Carina Paju, does not agree. "The skeptics in society say that every party at one or another time gets caught with a corruption scandal or they have been suspected of one, which is true, but we cannot be that pessimistic."

Paju is not sure whether a suspect being in the government is right. 

"The fact the prime minister and the government resigned, it was the only way. But why the suspicions were raised was forgotten about 24 hours later and shows that we are not really where we would like to be, in the cultural sense," Paju said.

Center Party members doubt going back to the coalition

Mayor of Tallinn Mihhail Kõlvart said straight after the coalition resigned that the Center Party should go into opposition. One of the reasons is ideological - the party was the largest one in a conservative government and now it is moving straight to a liberal government. 

"When you hurry from one ideological formula to another, you can lose the ideological backbone. And thus, I thought it would be reasonable to not do it so quickly," Kõlvart said.

He said a situation will occur where the positive results will be credited to the Reform Party as the newcomer and everything that was not solved in the last government will be blamed on the Center Party as the former leading party.

Kõlvart added the corruption allegations will not disappear anytime soon. "The ministers are working, they would like to talk about substantial topics, but there will only be interest in them when they have to comment on something related to the Porto Franco funding scandal," the mayor said.

He added that this will, in turn, affect the popularity of the party before the local government elections.

However, Soonvald pointed out that, in view of the local government elections, it can be expected that the Reform Party, the main opponent of the Center Party, will behave more softly towards the Center Party in Tallinn.

He said it will be difficult for Reform to go into the elections against the Center Party using anti-corruption slogans as the parties will be in coalition on the national level.

But Kõlvart believes the Toompea coalition is not important in the local government elections. "It would be too much to expect that Tallinn's current opposition, and the Reform Party, in particular, will behave differently towards the Center Party."

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Editor: Roberta Vaino

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