Police chief Elmar Vaher: PPA has been handling things correctly
In an interview with ERR on Wednesday, Police and Border Guard Board (PPA) Director General Elmar Vaher, who had a suspicion of aiding fraud formally brought against him on Tuesday morning, said that the PPA has been handling things correctly, and that this is a position he's prepared to defend in court if necessary.
Why did you choose police headquarters specifically as the location for our interview?
Vaher: You know, this is a pretty embarrassing story. This is a legal dispute that has been going on for three years between the Estonian Internal Security Service (ISS) and the PPA on joining the police, on the calculation of length of service, on rotations. And, strange as it may seem, my colleagues went and asked the Office of the Prosecutor General a year ago whether such rotations are justified and right. And we received the response that this was right.
We've likewise placed several people on rotation to one other partner institution. This partner institution has likewise commissioned an external legal analysis — evidently from a law firm — which was of the same position as the PPA. So that's what we're now arguing in the framework of criminal proceedings.
Let me get this straight — the specific matter with Eerik Heldna that sparked this dispute with the ISS was three years ago already?
Vaher: Heldna indeed entered service in April 2019.
Svetlana Meister [head of the PPA's personnel accounting and analysis service] gave my colleague Madis Hindre an interview [on Wednesday] and highlighted the fact that this rotation thing isn't well regulated by law. Did you not have any questions arise as you were formalizing Helnda's rotation paperwork about how you're placing someone on rotation to an institution where they've actually already been working for a year?
There are a total of 51 people on rotation from the PPA to the Ministry of the Interior, Ministry of Defense, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and intelligence agencies, so rotations are daily business for the PPA.
Currently it's been thrown out there that you drew up these documents together — that this was a buddy doing a favor for a friend.
Elmar Vaher has not hired Eerik Heldna. Period.
Has Elmar Vaher proposed formalizing the documents for Heldna's rotation to work at an institution where he had actually been working for a year already?
Elmar Vaher knows Eerik Heldna very well from his Tallinn police prefecture days, Central Criminal Police days, ISS days, and of course we discuss various things. While Eerik Heldna was working at the [Estonian Defense Forces'] Military Intelligence Center, of course we met and discussed common work matters, which is standard procedure for us.
There's one thing I don't understand about this rotation. Are you the one that proposes formalizing documents to place someone on rotation somewhere or do already prepared documents hit the director general's desk for confirmation and you just sign them, trusting what your colleagues have done?
I'll give you an example. We only recently just placed a police officer on rotation to the Social Insurance Board (SKA) because working with children and working with domestic violence here at the PPA and in that position at the SKA are fairly similar — we help children.
How does this work? This person applied for the position at the SKA, and that was preceded by a discussion with their immediate superior regarding whether they could be placed on rotation for a period of time — two or three years — and they would return with the competencies they gained there. And only then does this hit the director general's table, and the director general confirms the rotation to another institution.
My understanding of the Office of the Prosecutor General's claim regarding Eerik Heldna was that this was a fixed-period rotation. By when and when was he supposed to return to the PPA, then, and to what post?
Eerik Heldna was to start work as soon as possible. How exactly that went I cannot explain, as these are the details of an investigation.
You also can't say for how long he was sent there?
Yes, I unfortunately cannot say.
How many other such instances can you recall in practice of sending someone to work in a position in which they are already actually working?
There are several, and at various partner institutions.
ERR: When you said this was a dispute from three years ago, where did that dispute begin and why has this gotten so intense?
You know, I don't even really know. As I began, saying that this is a pretty embarrassing story. The institutions disagree. We've even asked lawyers for their opinions and we still remain at odds. And now we're resolving this difference of opinion in a criminal proceeding.
The Office of the Prosecutor General brought a suspicion against you yesterday of aiding fraud, and noted that this suspicion is subject to change. Has this suspicion changed?
I have been cooperating fully with the ISS. My office was searched yesterday as well. I handed over all of the necessary items that are important to the investigation and I'll certainly continue to cooperate in the interests of the investigation.
These disputes, should they occur and criminal proceedings continue — of course I will continue to defend my rights both during the pretrial investigation and, if necessary, in court later.
You were detained for a pretty long time yesterday. What other procedural acts were performed on top of searching your office?
I'm a former investigator; I know how these things work.
Is today the last day Elmar Vaher will be giving an interview in this building? And who is he currently giving this interview?
I'm giving this interview as PPA chief, and likely for the last time.
Looking back over these past three years, was there a moment at any point where alarm bells started ringing that maybe this isn't okay and that something should have been done differently?
Hindsight is always 20/20. But once again, this is a legal debate, and differing opinions. As they say — two lawyers, three opinions.
I will continue to maintain that the PPA has been handling things correctly, and I am prepared to defend these positions both during the pretrial investigation as well as later in court.
Suspected of fraud
Eerik Heldna, director of the Customs Department of the Estonian Tax and Customs Board (MTA), and Police and Border Guard Board (PPA) Director General Elmar Vaher were detained Tuesday morning on suspicions of fraud and aiding fraud, respectively, brought by the Estonian Internal Security Service (ISS).
According to the suspicion, Eerik Heldna was, at his own request and with the involvement of Elmar Vaher, registered as ostensibly employed in the Police and Border Guard Board (PPA) in April 2019 and transferred that same day for a fixed period of time to a structural unit of the Estonian Defense Forces (EDF) where he had in fact been working for a year already.
In May 2022, Heldna filed a pension application with the Social Insurance Board (SKA) seeking a lifetime superannuated pension, the suspicion noted. SKA approved his application. The pension application was based on documents which, among other things, reflected Heldna's ostensibly generated period of police service spanning nearly two years. Without this period, Heldna would not have met the requirement of 25 years of police service and would not have had the right to a lifetime superannuated pension.
This is an initial suspicion and is subject to change in the course of proceedings, which are being conducted by ISS officials under the direction of the Office of the Prosecutor General.
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Editor: Aili Vahtla