Lawyer: ISS search of office in relation to EKRE MP investigation 'illegal'
A lawyer whose offices were searched in relation to criminal proceedings initiated against Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE) MP Kert Kingo has hit out at the search, calling it 'disproportionate' and 'illegal'.
The Internal Security Service (ISS) conducted the search of law firm Eipre & Partnerid in Tallinn, directed by the prosecutor's office as per standard procedure.
Kingo is being investigate for alleged embezzlement, while the sworn advocate (Vandeadvokaat) who has issued the complaint, Martin Traat, is also under ISS investigation. Traat has the backing of the professional association, which hopes the case will help iron out in which circumstances such searches of law firms can be conducted.
State Prosecutor Vahur Verte said of the search that: "No one has currently been questioned as a suspect in the criminal case."
At the same time, one of the partners in the law firm, Martin Traat, was a suspect, Verte went on.
"Since Martin Traat's workplace was searched on the basis of a court order on Monday of last week, subjecting him to this procedural action as a suspect, he must be treated as a suspect in the criminal case despite the fact that he has not yet been questioned," Verte said.
Traat claimed that the search was both disproportionate and illegal, and out-of-synch with the rule of law.
Verte had noted on his social media account that the Internal Security Service (ISS) had commenced its criminal proceedings based on material sent by the Riigikogu's anti-corruption committee, chiefly relating to alleged embezzlement on the part of Kingo, a former IT and foreign trade ministry.
The alleged link with Traat concerned forged documentation, Verte wrote.
The latest search was in the interests of evidence gathering relating to the case and relating to the suspect, he added. Permission had been granted by the Harju County Court over week ago, to conduct the search.
Traat: Baseless procedural step
Martin Traat told ERR that the search was illegal and disproportionate.
He said: "Quite a number of norms were violated here. This is certainly a completely groundless procedural action, considering both the regulations provided for in the law and European Court of Human Rights rulings."
A statement that Traat had not provided required information relating to the case to the Estonian Bar Society's (Advokatuur) Honorable Court (Aukohus) was false, Traat added, citing the bar association's confirmation of that statement's falseness.
The Honorable Court of the Bar Association lacks the obligation by law to release the materials it has collected to the procedural authority, Verte added, hence the request to conduct the recent search.
Traat said that the bar association has been in contact with the prosecutor's office on the matter also, while he, Traat, is looking at legal redress options and intends to pursue the matter.
Traat also said that the bar associations inquiries as to any possible disciplinary violations, which Verte said so far as the prosecutor's office is aware, is being carried out, has been put on hold.
Bar Association chair: Was search absolutely necessary?
Chair of the Bar Association Imbi Jürgen told ERR that the association doubt the search was really necessary, and has sent a memo critical of its being carried out, to the prosecutor's office.
Jürgen said: "Conducting the search of a law firm should be done as a last resort. A law firm is filled with confidential information, communications between a lawyer and their clients, which in principle should not be seen by any outside eyes."
"In the current case, I'm not convinced if this was justified and necessary," said Jürgen.
Jürgen also rejected Verte's claim, and sided with Traat, that the latter had not submitted all materials the Honorable Court had requested.
Furthermore, the Honorable Court of the Bar Association does not voluntarily share this information with the investigative body, while the Bar Association Act obliges the court to keep confidential the information they obtain during supervision, Jürgen said, adding that he hoped clearer guidelines on the situations in which a law firm's premises may be searched by law enforcement authorities will arise from this case.
The Bar Association has also prepared a corresponding draft plan to that end, one which has now reached the Ministry of Justice.
The Riigikogu Anti-Corruption Select Committee approached the police in April in relation to expenses benefits used by Kert Kingo, while the ensuing ISS investigation in May raised questions of conflict of interest, since Kingo heads the Riigikogu committee which oversees the ISS, popularly known in Estonian by its acronym, Kapo.
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Editor: Andrew Whyte