The first hearing in a corruption case concerning allegations of influence peddling at a Tallinn real estate development which engulfed the Center Party, and led to the collapse of the Center/EKRE/Isamaa coalition early in 2021, got underway at Harju County Court on Friday.
The trials of businessman Hillar Teder, former Center Party secretary general Mihhail Korb, and the Center Party are the latest in the so-called Porto Franco case.
Teder, Korb and the Center Party stand accused of influence peddling, with the Prosecutor's Office alleging Korb used his position and closeness to Tallinn Mayor Mihhail Kõlvart to obtain favorable terms for Teder in developing the Porto Franco site, which is close to the capital's ferry and cruise terminal harbor.
In return, Teder allegedly pledged one million euros as a donation to the Center Party.
The Prosecutor's Office also alleges that the Tallinn City Government failed to follow standard practices and principles for setting prices when drawing up an easement fee for the Porto Franco site.
The fee was initially set at €776,580, before being reduced by more than half to €301,000, following an alleged €120,000 to Center by Teder.
Korb told ERR on Friday, that he was pleased the process had finally begun as it would allow him to present his own side of the story.
"I'm glad that that it has started today, by which I mean, the process of my acquittal. I will be able to speak my mind and present my views. Of course, I'm happy about today," he said.
Korb said there would be no point in denying that he had communicated with Teder, but added, that the things they had spoken about were the kind of things which are completely normal in conversations between two people.
"I can't say that I am not acquainted with Hillar Teder and that we didn't communicate - of course we did, we communicated quite a lot," said Korb, "I talked with Hillar Teder about a lot of things – political issues of the day, his business ventures, the future, the future of the world, the future of the country, " he said.
"When people communicate, they talk, they can't just sit in a room, keep quiet and stare at each other. Of course, we talked about important things. What those things were that we talked about, I think will be pretty much revealed in court," Korb added.
Korb went on to say, that although the trial had already affected his political career before it has even begun, he still plans to stand in the next Riigikogu elections in the spring.
Named after the central Tallinn real estate development which was the focal point of the allegations, the Porto Franco case has been divided into several sections. Charges were already brought against Teder and former finance ministry adviser Kersti Kracht, in April 2021, with each spending time in jail as a result.
The current trial is expected to last for around a year, with the last hearing scheduled for August 24, 2023 and a verdict due to arrive next fall.
Editor: Michael Cole