Center Party chair in Kohtla-Järve: Town on verge of 'political disaster'

Kohtla-Järve city hall.
Kohtla-Järve city hall. Source: Rene Kundla/ERR

The eastern Estonian town of Kohtla-Järve is on the verge of political disaster, at least according to chair of the Center Party's local branch, following a corruption scandal which engulfed several deputies and city government officials, all of whom, the Center chair says, should step down from their positions or have their powers suspended, regional daily Põhjarannik reports.

Ivetta Sakkart-Linnard, Center's chair in Kohtla-Järve, told Põhjarannik (link in Estonian) that: "The residents of the city do not have to suffer because of self-interested deputies.

"I would like to believe that [Council Chair] Tiit Lillemets, deputy Anton Dijev, [city council deputy chair] Maria Merkulova (Progress electoral list) and [deputy] Deniss Veršinin (Center) will have their powers as deputies suspended, and the officials involved in the corruption case will leave their positions themselves," Sakkart-Linnard went on – Lillemets and Dijev were elected from the Center Party's list at the last local election in October 2021, but are no longer party members.

Meanwhile deputy mayor Aljona Kazakova (Center), also named a suspect in the case and deputy mayor of the Ahtme and Oru district has been expelled by the Center Party, while Sakkart-Linnard said: "We have repeatedly stated that there is no place on our list for people who act only based on personal gain," noting that the Center politicians caught up in the scandal had opted to cooperate with "other political forces" in the town, which in Kazakova's case had expedited her expulsion, Sakkart-Linnard said.

Center also demands an extraordinary council session be called in which Lillemets and Mayor Toomas Nale could provide an overview of the "embarrassing situation", while the party will meet with deputies and city government members from other parties and political alliances, at least if they are untainted by the scandal.

The original Põhjarannik piece (in Estonian) is here.

Põhjarannik is a regional daily owned by the Postimees Group and which covers Ida-Viru County.

The aforementioned were detained by the Police and Border Guard Board (PPA) Tuesday on suspicion of the giving and taking of bribes and/or of influence peddling, though they have since been released after a court rejected the Prosecutor's Office request that they be formally arrested.

The individuals remain suspects in an investigation, and all reportedly have close ties with a local businessman Nikolai Ossipenko, who, accoridng to an opposition councilor and Riigikogu MP, effectuvely runs Kohtla-Järve and many other parts of Ida-Viru County, so far as contracts for services as diverse as refuse collection, road maintenance and even cemetery care go, via various companies that he owns.

Ossipenko himself is a former mayor of Kohtla-Järve.

The suspects belong to the Reform Party and at least one local electoral list, in addition to Center, along with business associates of Ossipenko who were also named suspects.

Eight people had been given suspect status Tuesday while around a dozen are of interest to the PPA, it is reported.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte

Source: Põhjarannik

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