A long-term expat Estonian who lives on the Greek island of Samos says that an NGO he operates receiving €15,000 in "protection money" from the Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE) had come as no big surprise to him, portal Delfi reports.
Aldo Maksimov, a former journalist, operates his NGO, called the Meedia Uurimise Keskus (English: "Media research center," we'll use the acronym MUK), from the island, and said that the protection money sum would be used: "To carry out new research, for the purpose of sustainable operations," as well as for two people's salaries for a year, Delfi reports (link in Estonian).
Maksimov himself had asked for the funding, saying: "It came back as a little more than I asked for."
While he is an EKRE member, Maksimov denies that the MUK's activities are directly linked with the party, telling Delfi that none of the other NGO members – who do the bulk of the work - are members of any political party,.
Delfi reports that the business register had listed on MUK's board one EKRE Tartu councilor, Silver Kuusik, which Maksimov does not deny, adding that Kuusik has not received a cent from the party directly or indirectly, in the 18 months or so Kuusik has been involved with MUK.
Kuusik simply helped with setting up the NGO from an online tech perspective, which Maksimov admits is not his own strong suit, and no longer does any work for MUK, he, Maksimov, says.
That Kuusik's name remains on the business register despite Maksimov's asking him to de-register over a year ago is probably down to a technical error, the latter added, while Delfi reports that the NGO itself subsequently deleted Kuusik's name.
MUK, established in Novmber 2020, says on its own site that it is a small, family-run body which holds a somewhat conservative and traditionalist worldview, while Maksimov says that, due in part to his EKRE membership, the mainstream media has ignored most of the NGO's research results.
That research includes half-a-dozen reports, the most well-known being one on a proposed referendum on the definition of marriage, which ended up being covered by daily Postimees, as well as issues such as hate speech, immigration and race relations in the US – using methodologies which, Maksimov says, derives from the work of University of Tartu political scientist Martin Mölder.
Postimees had also ordered a study from MUK on the media coverage of the recent photo allegations made against Reform Party MP Marko Mihkelson, a study which Postimees, on the grounds of quality issues, declined to run in the end – an outcome which Maksimov says has happened before and which he puts down to meddling by persons unknown.
The original Delfi piece (in Estonian) is here.
The question of protection money has received much media coverage in recent days, not least that with a Riigikogu election looming, suspicions have emerged that it will be used to influence the outcome of this.
Even during non-election years, the practice – which sees several million euros hived off from the state budget and funneled to parties and more specifically their MPs, who can opt to support regional projects of their choice using the money – has been controversial.
Another criticism has been that the practice is merely used to grease the wheels of the state budget process and voting at the Riigikogu, to get it passed by year end and with minimal amendments.
Additional allegations – as with those made against Maksimov – claim that MPs simply provide the money to friends or those they have close political or other associations with.
In practice, church renovations or even the building of new churches or related facilities, are a common destination of the protection money, which in turn may result in suspicions over the tax and other financial status that religious foundations enjoy.
Nonetheless, all the represented Riigikogu parties are taking part in the protection money round this year – even the Reform Party, which had long been a hold-out, though individual MPs can and do decline to make use of the option.
This year, €4 million in protection money will be provided (out of a state budget of nearly €17 billion), or just under €40,000 per MP.
Editor: Andrew Whyte