Court finds ministerial ex-adviser guilty of violating procedure

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Urmas Arumäe in court. Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

Harju County Court on Wednesday found Urmas Arumäe, former adviser to the minister of rural affairs, guilty of a violation of a procedural restriction and handed him a fine of over €8,000.

The criminal matter was resolved by alternative procedure and the punishment for Arumäe is a fine of €8,688.

Leelet Kivioja, a specialized prosecutor at the North District Prosecutor's Office, sought a pecuniary punishment for Arumäe in the amount of 300 daily rates with a daily rate of €54. The prosecutor found that pursuant to the alternative procedure, the punishment must be reduced by one-third, meaning that the eventual punishment for the ex-adviser would equal 200 daily rates or €10,800.

Leon Glikman, attorney for Arumäe, described the charges as ungrounded and said that Arumäe must be acquitted. 

Arumäe pleaded not guilty. Arumäe and his then-attorney Aadu Luberg claimed that Arumäe had never worked at the Ministry of Rural Affairs. "I have not [been Mart Järvik's (EKRE) adviser], I was a legal adviser through a lawyer's contract," Arumäe told the daily newspaper Postimees after the hearing.

"I do not understand this accusation. Proof of official capacity cannot be proven with witness statements, it requires an employment contract or any other relevant evidence. I have never worked as an adviser to a minister," Arumäe said.

Prosecutor Leelet Kivioja called Arumäe's defense tactics wordplay.

"After all, things can be called by different synonyms, but the fact is that under the client contract he was the lawyer fulfilling the mandate, who was hired to advise the minister, among other things, on all kinds of legal issues, including this dispute concerning PRIA," Kivioja said.

According to Kivioja, it does not matter what Arumäe's job title is, but the content of his activities.

"Whether he is employed by the ministry or under some kind of contract of employment, or whether he is really a lawyer simply providing legal services, if his job is such that he can guide the minister's decisions through it and participate in the decision-making process, that is enough to be an official," the prosecutor said.

According to the statement of charges by the North District Prosecutor's Office, Arumäe in his capacity as an official advised the minister of rural affairs on legal matters while simultaneously serving as attorney for suspects in a criminal investigation where the party that had sustained damage was the agricultural registers and information agency PRIA, an institution in the area of administration of the Ministry of Rural Affairs.

The North District Prosecutor's Office opened a criminal investigation in November 2019 to find out whether the adviser to the minister may have participated as an official in decision-making and substantive directing of decisions in relation to persons connected with him.

Specifically, Arumäe advised the minister on the granting of authorization to PRIA in the criminal proceeding while serving as an attorney for suspects in the same criminal investigation. In the case, PRIA asked the Ministry of Rural Affairs for authorization to reclaim from clients of Arumae €1.1 million of money paid out in investment support. 

When becoming adviser, Arumäe resigned as an attorney for legal persons, but not for the physical persons, in the criminal case. 

"The prosecutor's office finds that the withdrawal of Urmas Arumae from the role of attorney was only seeming, since while he did discontinue representing legal persons, he continued serving as attorney for physical persons who had sat on the boards of the same companies. Besides, another attorney working at the same law office started to represent the legal persons. Through that, the legal persons continued to be connected with Urmas Arumäe," prosecutor Leelet Kivioja told BNS earlier.

According to the prosecutor's office, Arumäe must have been aware of the economic interest of his clients, meaning the wish of the people he was representing not to have to repay the support, which may have influenced his decisions as adviser to the minister of rural affairs. 

Therefore, Arumäe was aware of the risk of corruption in the meaning of the Anti-Corruption Act. 

"Besides, an official must immediately inform their immediate superior about a procedural restriction, which the person accused did not do in said case," Kivioja has also said.

Arumäe was charged with a violation of a procedural restriction on a particularly large-scale basis, meaning to an amount of more than €400,000.

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Editor: Helen Wright

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