Over 10 of most significant witnesses in former minister trial testify
Over a third of the 30 witnesses called to testify in the embezzlement trial of a former education minister have already done so, with most of them constituting the most significant portion of the witnesses, ETV news show 'Aktuaalne kaamera' (AK) reported Friday.
Nonetheless, the trial, of Mailis Reps (Center), who stands charged with misusing ministry funds, is likely to continue at the first-tier Harju County Court into next year.
Over 10 people have taken the witness stand in the nearly three months the trial has been in progress, while the prosecution has summoned a total of 30 witnesses, primarily former employees of the Ministry of Education.
State prosecutor Deniss Tšasovskih told AK that the witness already to have testified: "Have been the most significant witnesses in terms of testimony, as well. There are 20 witnesses remaining, and we will continue with the sittings in June," adding that there would be three of these, followed by a summer recess. The trial will then re-adjourn in August.
The hearings are closed to the public, a practice which has attracted much scrutiny and criticism in Estonia in recent years, but in this case a move which both prosecution and defense counsel are in agreement over - primarily because some witness testimonies will involve Reps' private family life and that of her six children.
The trial is projected to end in 2023.
Most of Friday's hearing was devoted to matters relating to the duties of the minister's adviser, ERR reports, while previous sessions had included alleged non-payment of a plane fare for her infant child during a trip to the U.S.
A former adviser to Reps, Marii Juht, reportedly said that processing invoices had not been a part of her work tasks, and was something which she had only come into contact with in respect of travel insurance arrangements.
Defense counsel for Reps, sworn advocate Paul Keres, said that a line had been drawn under the plane-ticket episode, calling any charges of Reps falsifying information in respect to the U.S. trip's tickets "completely out of the question."
Keres noted that a more cogent question would be why the education ministry has no procedure in place for an employee who is a mother with a toddler to travel somewhere they had been sent to due to work.
Keres said while it was possible that a decision from the county court will be forthcoming this year, most likely the process will continue into 2023.
The trial started February 7 this year. Reps is charged under two sections of the penal code, referring to misappropriation and fraud.
The first charge relates to the use of a ministry car and its fuel for non-official purposes, including for the school run, and for hosting and organizing a birthday party using ministry funds and facilities.
The second charge pertains to the use of a ministry coffee machine which Reps allegedly took home, the U.S. travel expenses noted above, other birthday party costs at a restaurant and expenses related to attending the first ever full WRC Rally Estonia, in summer 2020.
The coffee machine aspect has emerged as something of a meme within the Estonian media and society, simply because its manufacturer's name – Jura – is also Estonian slang for nonsense, and cruder synonyms of same.
Reps was education minister over three terms, 2002 to 2003, 2005 to 2007, and most recently from 2016 until her resignation in late 2020, following publication of articles in evening paper Õhtuleht which contained photos allegedly depicting Reps' ministry car ferrying some of her children to or from school. The involvement of children in the media reports has also hit controversy.
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Editor: Andrew Whyte