TalTech funding investigation ends with no charges arising

Tallinn University of Technology main campus in Mustamäe.
Tallinn University of Technology main campus in Mustamäe. Source: Ken Mürk/ERR

A long-running domestic investigation into alleged misuse of European Commission funding at Tallinn University of Technology (TalTech) has been closed, with no charges being issued. The story first broke in August 2019, following a piece which appeared in daily Postimees.

"The fact that administration in general could have been more consistent does not provide sufficient grounds for bringing charges as no deliberate crimes were committed, according to the prosecutor's office," district prosecutor in charge of the investigation, Marek Soomaa, said.

"Neither the evidence collected during the investigation nor documentation by the university proved this with sufficient certainty. Responsibilities were diffused and roles unclear, which is why the suspect could not be regarded the offender in criminal terms," he went on, according to BNS.

The case emerged in summer 2019 in the wake of an investigative piece by alleged misuse of European funding in the OGI project was brought to public attention by a whistleblower and journalists of Postimees. In October 2019, TalTech finished an investigation into the case, concluding that while the university's rules had been broken, no deliberate violations of funding rules had been detected.

This did not, however, mean that the university's management of project funding and its expenses had been adequate, Soomaa went on.

"The evidence collected in the course of criminal proceedings showed that the rules for using project funds and recognition of expenses were not clear enough, that documentation was at times insufficient and that communication between members of the project team was poor," with a lack of clarity between team members over responsibilities also being a factor, he said.

The criminal proceedings concerned suspicions against the then-head of the e-governance department at the university's Ragnar Nurkse Department of Innovation and Governance and an individual responsible for the use of the budget and its reporting, in respect of the project in question, the OpenGovIntelligence (OGI) project.

Krõõt Nõges, spokesperson for TalTech, said that the case had been concluded, since the prosecutor's office did not find any intent in regard to the activities in focus in the investigation.

The North District Prosecutor's Office finished its criminal investigation in May, an investigation which began in August 2019. The investigation looked at the work contribution of, and salary payments to, six people on the OGI payroll in the period 2016 to 2019, BNS reports.

The principal allegations were that the staff budget relating to the project was being utilized in paying the salaries of university employees who were not directly working on OGI, or whose actual contribution did not match their contribution as it was reported.

Four people had contributed to the project and duly received pay for their work, Marek Soomaa noted.

TalTech says it has learned lessons from the case and has improved its procedures, as well as introducing a whistle-blowing procedure Krõõt Nõges said.

The criminal investigation was launched on the basis of Section 210 of the Penal Code dealing with benefit fraud, BNS reports.

The investigation was carried out by the Criminal Bureau of the North Prefecture of the Police and Border Guard Board (PPA) and led by the North District Prosecutor's Office, in accordance with standard Estonian procedure.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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