The Center Party will cover the legal costs of one of its MPs, who faces both a criminal trial and a civil trial in the new year. The hearings arose from allegations the MP, Mailis Reps, misused ministry funds while she was education minister.
Mailis Reps, who since stepping down as education minister over a year ago has been a sitting Riiikogu MP, will see party funds set aside for her legal fees in the impending case, which starts January 7 2022.
The party's Riigikogu group chair, Jaanus Karilaid, told the "Sihik" current affairs show broadcast by commercial radio station Kuku Raadio Thursday that: "The court will determine whether she is guilty or not, but our party has made a contribution to cover the costs of Reps' criminal proceedings."
Reps stands charged with embezzling ministry funds – which would have come from the state budget – rather than Center's own funds.
The criminal hearing set to start in the new year concerns an alleged €7,500 Reps is charged with having misappropriated, though a civil suit is being launched by Reps' old ministry and under the auspices of her successor, Reform's Liina Kersna, and claiming damages of nearly €120,000.
Representing the ministry, lawyer Marko Kairjak has told ERR that the civil suit is based on circumstances and evidence exposed in the criminal investigation case file, while details will be made clear in the course of the case and the ultimate sum may change.
Reps' parliamentary immunity was lifted in October, with 56 MPs in support at the 101-seat chamber. This formality was needed before she could be tried.
The prosecutor's office lodged the charges at the end of November.
The €7,500 entered on the charge sheet pertains to the alleged misuse of funds and resources held by the ministry, including a ministry car and driver to carry out the school run (photographic evidence of which sparked the scandal, when published by evening paper Õhtuleht), a long-distance trip (to Croatia) using a ministry vehicle, hosting a birthday party at a high-end restaurant and, most famously, sequestering a ministry coffee machine for home use.
Reps' lawyer Paul Keres says his client will be pleading not guilty at next year's trial.
Reps held the post of Minister of Education and Research over a total of around seven years, starting in 2002 and over three stints. The last one ended with her resignation in November 2020, when she was replaced by Jaak Aab (Center).
With the entry into office of the Reform/Center coalition – Reps led Center's negotiation delegation – Liina Kersna (Reform) was appointed education minister. The ministry also recently fired a youth agency leader over alleged "opaque payments" to an associate and, in fact, the civil servant's predecessor.
Editor: Andrew Whyte