Finance ministry: Sanctioned fertilizer at Muuga not up for sale

Finance ministry Secretary General Merike Saks.
Finance ministry Secretary General Merike Saks. Source: Ken Mürk/ERR

Large quantities of fertilizer stranded at Muuga harbor following sanctions placed on the Russian Federation are not at this point up for sale, despite Estonian farmers' interest in purchasing the embargoed product – which also presents a potential hazard when left where it is, in such volume.

Around 80,000 tonnes of sanctioned Russian fertilizer is still at Muuga, east of Tallinn, 12,000 tonnes of which is ammonium nitrate, which is also used as a component in explosives and has been the cause of major, accidental explosions in the past, most recently in Beirut, Lebanon, just over two years ago.

Following ERR's report on the situation from July 13 (link in Estonian), members of the Estonian Chamber of Agriculture and Commerce (EPKK) took the view that the fertilizer might be for sale, not least due to an official's expressing hope that the state would find some way to sell off the goods.

The Ministry of Finance has called this a misconception, while even confiscating the property wholesale is not so straightforward.

Merike Saks, the ministry's secretary general, wrote to the EPKK, stating that: "We are outlining that, in the context of the application of international sanctions, the freezing of economic resources does not equate to the nationalization of funds."

"The transfer of funds to the ownership of the state would require the initiation of criminal proceedings, which may (editor's emphasis) end in the confiscation of property of an individual convicted of a crime.

Sanctions do not change the ownership status of the fertilizer, Saks added.

"An international sanction, including a financial sanction, is a foreign policy measure in the course of which the ownership of the property [sanctioned] does not change."

If and when a sanction is lifted, the property in question must be released to its owners also, Saks added.

In the case of the Muuga fertilizer, since it is adjudged to be environmentally hazardous, the state must still bear in mind the temporary nature and specific purpose of international sanctions even when taking the necessary means to remove any danger.

Saks noted that the Ministry of Finance does not conduct criminal proceedings and therefore she could not comment on whether or when any such proceedings might be started, while at the same time, since there is not indication the owner wishes to relinquish ownership of the fertilizer, there are no grounds for seizing those movables.

The Financial Intelligence Bureau (Rahapesu andmebüroo) is responsible for the implementation of international sanctions in Estonia.

The economic affairs ministry had recently stated that selling off the fertilizer was not viable, in so doing taking a position similar to that which has been taken in Germany, ERR reports.

The August 4 2020 Beirut explosion was caused by the detonation of 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate, less than a quarter of the volume of that stored at Muuga, 20km east of Tallinn, following an accidental blaze which initially detonated fireworks being stored adjacent to the ammonium nitrate, in the Port of Beirut. That ammonium nitrate had also been confiscated.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte, Mari Peegel

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