Head of the Estonian Tax and Customs Board (MTA) customs department Eerik Heldna, detained Tuesday on suspicion of fraud, says that he has through his entire service followed valid norms, both in form and in substance.
In April 2019, Heldna reportedly requested to be registered as working for the Police and Border Guard Board (PPA), while on the same day he was transferred on rotation to the Estonian Defense Forces (EDF), but in fact he had already been working for the latter for a year, at that point in time.
That this led to a fraud suspicion relates to the fact that Heldna, who has also worked for the Internal Security Service (ISS) – known in Estonia as the Kapo – in May 2022 filed for a pension application on the basis a 25-year PPA service record, in other words the registration noted above, with the connivance of PPA chief Elmar Vaher, was put in place to qualify for the pension, it is alleged.
Helda maintains he has acted correctly, in an interview given to ERR Wednesday which follows in its entirety.
What procedural steps were taken yesterday, regarding your case, and perhaps can we also inquire if these were done correctly?
These were carried out very well. I certainly have no objections about my colleagues from the Internal Security Service (ISS) on the correctness of procedural actions. These consisted of various procedural actions. Questioning was one of these, but I won't go into details about the other activities here.
I still need to ask – did you get to sleep in your own bed last night, or were you detained for longer than that?
Yes, I was able to sleep in my own bed.
Elmar Vaher said that your rotation was limited in basis. How long were you sent to the EDF intelligence center (The Kaitseväe luurekeskus, where Heldna had been ostensibly seconded-ed.) for, and what position did you have to return to?
As for the specific rotation period, like Elmar Vaher, I would say that we will leave those dates open here. The rotation was formalized by the EDF intelligence and, within the EDF intelligence Center I served in the position of deputy commander.
Was that rotation for one year, three years, ten years?...
I will definitely not refer to the period here, but it was longer than for one year.
How was it possible that you were on rotation to an institution where you had actually been in office for a year?
All the requirements of the law, which are valid now, were valid then, and arise from service necessity, both at that point in time and at the point in time when this was formalized, were followed during the whole process of formalization and rotation into the police service. I can't add more to this topic at this point in time.
It seems to me that this was somewhat like a fictitious contract, one that was made with you so that you could keep your so-called social guarantees.
This was certainly not a fictitious contract. In all matters regarding my ministry, I have never entered on to the path of any fictitious contract or its machinations. Everything that concerns the circumstances of the service has always been both legally and internally, ethically and legally correct.
Elmar Vaher says that this dispute, between the ISS and the PPA, had lasted three years, while I understood that it began with your involvement. Why did such a dispute arise between the ISS and the PPA over such a rotation?
It is probably not appropriate to ask me why there was a dispute between the PPA and the ISS.
It is directly relevant to your case.
Unfortunately, I cannot answer these circumstances because I have not been present when this dispute was taking place. The rotation practice is a relatively common practice; there are not one, two and three people, but rather there are dozens of people. As could be read in the news today, the same procedural rules have been followed in all these cases. So at this point, I can't add anything more on this topic.
I also heard that the root cause of this dispute has to be asked: Why did you and the ISS fall out?
I have certainly not enjoyed a bad relationship with the ISS, while the eight years I served with the ISS were some very effective, very strong years. If you also read them from the kind words given by [then ISS director] Arnold Sinisalu, at the time of his departure, these were certainly appreciative.
Did you ever have any questions about this procedure when a work rotation took place, ie. was everything still legally correct, of does it leave a bad taste - I have worked for a year, then I am rotated and I continue the same work that I had been doing so far?
Never during my service have I ever taken such steps whereby alarm bells would have sounded somewhere in the back of my head, or internally, telling me that I am doing something wrong. I have followed the norms that are in force; not only in form, but also in substance, and also by adhering to my own ethics. Without that I simply wouldn't have been able to do it.
If this German civil servants-style system of social guarantees had not been taken on at the same time and changed, at the beginning of 2020, would there have been such a need to formalize working as a rotation?
At the end of the day we are talking about the issue of formalizing my service relating to the police service from 2019 onward, but none of us are psychic, so I cannot answer that question. At the time there was a need, there was a right, and all met the substantive and formal requirements.
However, it was common knowledge that from January 1, 2020, you must either have fulfilled your seniority, or you needed to be a polic employee
I repeat once again at this juncture that all these actions, which were related to registration for the police service, were legal and correct both in substance and in form.
If it was all done so correctly, why are you now in this situation? Your career, your reputation, everything is up in the air.
It is certainly not viable for me to comment at this point on why one or other procedural actions have been carried out. The procedure is being conducted by the prosecutor's office. I am truly, extremely sorry that meritorious police officers with impeccable service have found themselves in this situation. But that's all I have to add here.
How will you live with the knowledge that, in addition to you, the finger of suspicion points at at least one more person, who is also in trouble?
All these people, just as I did, at least in my case, have acted correctly, both in substance and in form.
Editor: Andrew Whyte, Merili Nael