Former ministry adviser ordered to not leave home longer than three days
A former adviser to Martin Helme (EKRE) has been hit with a one-year virtual house arrest after being released from prison earlier in the week. Kersti Kracht, who was Helme's adviser while he was finance minister in the last administration, was involved in the corruption scandal centered on a Tallinn property development, which prompted the resignation of Jüri Ratas as prime minister last month.
The Internal Security Service (ISS) imposed the prohibition on departure on Kracht, who for the next year cannot leave her place of residence for a period longer than three days, ostensibly to prevent her from avoiding potential court proceedings by fleeing the country. The ruling remains in force for the next year.
The ISS conducted the investigation into goings on at the Porto Franco development in Tallinn's harbor area, under direction from the prosecutor's office.
Kracht: Prosecutor's office plot brought down last government
Kracht says that she was detained – and held in prison for around a month – as a scapegoat in a plot to overthrow the last Center/EKRE/Isamaa government.
Speaking at a press conference Friday (see gallery below), Kracht said that:"The prosecutor's office orchestrated a major showdown in order to break up the government."
Jüri Ratas resigned less than 24 hours after the ISS investigation, which also saw businessman Hillar Teder – a major Center Party donor – the Center Party's secretary general Mihhail Korb and the party itself all named as suspects in a case where bribery and influence peddling allegedly took place.
Kracht: I can't name names because it would endanger my well-being
Kracht said Friday that former prosecutor general Lavly Perling had moved into politics – something which Kracht said was corruption in itself – and Perling's former office had moved to bring down the Ratas-led administration.
At the same time, Kracht, who was released Tuesday, would not name names, saying her life may be endangered if she did so.
"I can see clear corruption here at the political level as well as in the law enforcement system," Kracht said Friday.
Second-tier court overruled county court on Kracht detention
Kracht was released after the second-tier Tallinn Circuit Court overruled the original decision from the first-tier Harju County Court to detain Kracht and Hillar Teder, who was also ordered to be freed 15 days after the ruling takes effect. Teder will be under electronic surveillance after he is released, it is reported.
Kracht's lawyer, Oliver Nääs, said Friday that in criminal proceedings, all pieces of the evidence jigsaw must be justifiable and required, and not just admitted because it is possible to do so.
Nääs said: "Such developments are neither okay nor normal when it comes to the rule of law," adding that he will challenge his client's prohibition on departure in the courts.
"This is a matter of principle, and I believe that rather a matter of principle also for Kersti Kracht," Nääs added.
Kracht lawyer: How can my client abscond if she is supposedly bankrupt?
Oliver Nääs also rejected claims that his client may try to abscond.
"For us, this was surprising, since the prosecutor's office has never argued that Kracht evaded proceedings. Such claims started to be tabled now, when she was already released from custody. For the past month the prosecutor's office has been claiming that Kracht is effectively penniless, yet simultaneously the claim that she has the opportunity to start a new life abroad has started to circulate. There's a contradiction in this," Nääs said.
Kracht herself said that rumors of financial difficulties had been exaggerated, and that she had repaid €1.4 million of a bank loan to her ex-husband, following their divorce.
Adviser reiterates denial of influence peddling activity
She also denied being involved in influence peddling or bribe facilitation and that she would testify on this in court, reiterating what she had told ERR Thursday.
Kracht said: "I can confirm that I have not asked Teder for a bribe or traded for influence. The final truth will be revealed in court."
Kracht also said that the case against her was part of an attempt to cover up details of money laundering investigations, adding that she had made the acquaintance of Louis Freeh, a U.S. lawyer Martin Helme hired when he was finance minister in a deal which the new administration announced was terminated today.
Kracht became acquainted with former FBI director hired by finance minister
Kracht, who said she also was acquainted with Hillar Teder, said that such contacts were not criminal offenses.
Freeh, a former FBI director, had been hired to represent Estonia in money laundering hearings in the U.S. relating to the Danske Bank case, in order to obtain a cut of potential damages and to help patch up Estonia's international reputation in the wake of the case.
The deal was controversial mainly because Freeh reportedly also represented one of the Russian companies thought to have channeled funds via the now-defunct Danske Estonia.
Porto Franco case
On January 14, Harju County Court granted the application by the Office of the Prosecutor General to take Teder and Kracht into custody for up to two months.
The pair had been apprehended, among others, as suspects, two days earlier, on January 12. Former Center Party secretary general Mihhail Korb was also named a suspect, as was the Center Party itself, and two other unnamed individuals.
Teder and Korb are both suspected of influence peddling. The allegations state Teder and Korb colluded, to enable Teder to donate up to €1 million to the Center Party ahead of autumn's local government elections and, in return, the Porto Franco development would be permitted to build an exit route on a property belonging to the City of Tallinn.
Additionally, Teder and Kracht agreed that the latter, as adviser to the minister of finance, would contribute towards a favorable decision for Teder in terms of a large loan sought for the Porto Franco real estate development via crisis aid measures issued by the state-run KredEx foundation. Teder and Kracht are also suspected of concluding a money laundering agreement to conceal bribery.
Kracht: Prison staff nice despite their low salaries
Actual bribe payments were interrupted by the ISS investigation.
Kracht said that despite everything, she had had a pleasant time in prison and met some nice people who worked there for paltry salaries.
At the same time, the prison system should be shaken up and was in dire need of improvement, based on her experiences, she said.
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Editor: Andrew Whyte