The Estonian government's candidate for the European Court of Auditors (ECA) Keit Pentus-Rosimannus, has commented for the first time on the criminal complaint filed by Mart Helme, vice-chair of the Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE) and head of the Riigikogu's Special Anti-Corruption Committee. Helme alleges, that the process by which Pentus-Rosimannus' was nominated for the role breached official procedures.
"The preliminary proceedings and preparations for the Court of Auditors hearing in Brussels have been intense and have gone well in the European Parliament. Meanwhile, my old frenemies in EKRE are occupying their time with their political criminal prosecution and vicious bullying. Since, as is typical of the EKRE, a lot of twisted allegations have been made, I consider it necessary to once again state, in a non-emotional manner, everything related to my nomination as a member of the (European) Court of Auditors," Pentus-Rosimannus wrote on social media.
She then described how, in 2021, officials from the Ministry of Finance had told her of the government's need to inform the Council of Europe of the candidate it wished to nominate for membership of the ECA as a replacement for Juhan Parts, whose term of office expires on January 1, 2023. According to Pentus-Rosimannus, she then passed this on to Prime Minister Kaja Kallas, as decisions regarding the appointment of individuals to such positions have traditionally been made as a result of discussions between coalition party chairs.
"The Prime Minister confirmed that, as in the case of previous nominations for the Court of Auditors, this is part of a political process. In other words, the government's decision to nominate a candidate for the post, has (previously) come about as a result of political agreement between the parties at the level of party chairs," she said.
"I consider it necessary to immediately clarify a fact well known to EKRE - neither Estonian law, nor any other existing rule stipulates, that the Minister of Finance has to choose the candidate to be put forward (For the ECA member role – ed.). According to the law, (the minister) only has to present the candidate to the government, not select that candidate."
According to Pentus-Rosimannus, she asked Ministry of Finance officials to compile a report outlining the relevant background material on the Court of Auditors and the membership nomination process, which was forwarded to the prime minister in early February 2022.
"As the Prime Minister has stated publicly on several occasions, she continued to engage in consultations and discussions regarding the nominee with the chairs of the other coalition parties at the time. In mid-February, the Prime Minister asked me if I would be willing to allow my name to be put forward when she was discussing possible candidates for the Court of Auditors with her coalition partners. I gave my consent, to put forward my name as one of the possible candidates," Pentus-Rosimannus explained.
Pentus-Rosimannus said, that in the first half of March, she also informed Center Party leader Jüri Ratas, that she had agreed for her name to be put forward as a potential candidate for the ECA role.
"As Jüri Ratas has confirmed, both publicly and to a parliamentary committee, I did not in any way request support for my candidature. I did not inquire as to whether such support could come from the Center Party, but I informed him of the fact that I had given consent to the Prime Minister and that the Prime Minister was dealing with the matter."
Pentus-Rosimannus added, that Russia's full-scale war on Ukraine, which began at the end of February, took all the Prime Minister's attention during the months that followed. "EKRE's allegations that I have 'held up the process of searching for and nominating a candidate for the Court of Auditors 'for several months,' are simply malicious. First, the search for the candidate was handled by the Prime Minister as part of the political process; second, there were objectively much more critical issues related to Estonia's security that took all the attention in the intervening months."
According to Pentus-Rosimannus, the political party chairs, who negotiated the formation of the new government, were unable to reach a conclusive agreement regarding Estonia's nomination for the ECA. However, they had agreed that this was a matter on which the government could vote in order to make a decision.
"As all the party chairs have confirmed, there was no nominee (agreed). In other words, allegations that I had known months in advance that the party chairs would agree to put forward my nomination and no one else's, are untrue. There was no way I could have held that presumption or had such prior knowledge, especially before the party chairs had even begun discussing possible candidates," Pentus-Rosimannus said.
"EKRE has tried to claim that I have been actively and systematically involved in the process of selecting the candidate for the European Court of Auditors. This is not true and has been refuted by the leaders of the governing parties. Both SDE Chair Lauri Läänemets, and Helir Valdor Seeder, chair of Isamaa, have confirmed publicly and before a parliamentary committee that I have not spoken to either of them regarding support for my candidature and have therefore not (acted in any way to) influence or direct them to support my candidature," she added.
Pentus-Rosimannus added, that officials and politicians, who answered questions in front of a parliamentary committee, had confirmed that she had in no way been involved in the decision to put her own name forward as Estonia's ECA candidate.
"As the Prime Minister has stated and explained publicly - I did not put myself forward as a candidate for this post, I did not choose myself as a candidate for this post, I did not participate in the negotiations between the party leaders (to decide) the candidate, I was not involved in the government's decision to put forward my candidacy," she continued.
Pentus-Rosimannus then explained that at the end of July, before going on vacation, she had sent a reminder to Prime Minister Kaja Kallas (Reform), that the Council of Europe was awaiting Estonia's nomination. "At the request of the Prime Minister, before the start of my leave, I asked officials at the Ministry of Finance to prepare a draft, which did not contain any names, and to update the background report on the Court of Auditors and the internal nomination process, which was produced earlier this year, in order to submit to the Prime Minister," Pentus-Rosimannus said.
"On September 5, the Prime Minister informed me of her decision to nominate me as candidate for the European Court of Auditors, that she would like to put the issue on the agenda of the government meeting on September 8, and so would ask Urmas Kruuse (Reform – ed.), who will act as Minister of Finance, to submit a draft on September 8."
"The Prime Minister also informed me, that she had asked the Auditor General Janar Holm, for a preliminary assessment of my candidature, and that this assessment was positive. On the evening of that same day, I informed my advisers of my conversation with the Prime Minister and confirmed that, as I had received confirmation that morning that the Prime Minister wished to submit my candidacy to the government for a decision, I was withdrawing completely from the matter," Pentus-Rosimannus wrote.
"Other than submitting my CV on September 7 (and asking for it to be checked linguistically before submission to the government), and to point out an error in the draft bill sent to me for review (which is where the sentence 'Kruuse will still submit the materials' comes from - I noticed the original mistake by the drafters and confirmed that I was not the author of the proposal), I had nothing more to do with the matter. Although attempts are now being made to discredit me for correcting this mistake, the problem would have come later had I overlooked it," she added.
Pentus-Rosimannus stressed, that the direction to submit her nomination as a candidate for the ECA to the government, came from the Prime Minister's Office.
"The Prime Minister's Office also gave me the task of preparing and presenting a draft. Ministry of Finance staff additionally confirmed to the parliamentary committee, that the selection process for the Member of the Court of Auditors this time was the same as on previous occasions. It was a political choice made at the level of the political party chairs. The selection was submitted to the government for a decision by Urmas Kruuse, who was acting Minister of Finance. The decision was taken by the government. Without my involvement," she added.
Pentus-Rosimannus also said that the process of nominating a candidate for the ECA should be reviewed to avoid a similar situation occurring in future.
"And, if necessary, improve it so that this whole nonsense does not happen again in six years' time. When I was still Minister of Finance, I asked the secretary general (Merike Saks – ed.), to put together a working group of experts - including representatives of the National Audit Office, the Government Office and the Office of the Chancellor of Justice - who would pick the process apart, compare it with the experience of other countries and then make their own recommendations."
According to Pentus-Rosimannus, Mart Helme's aim is to cause damage to her reputation.
Editor: Michael Cole