In an interview with ERR, Prosecutor General Andres Parmas said that former Police and Border Guard Board (PPA) director general Elmar Vaher and his longtime colleague Eerik Heldna made a conscious decision when registering Heldna as employed with the police in April 2019. Nonetheless, the question remains whether a criminal case must conclude with the criminal punishment of everyone involved.
Elmar Vaher has said that this is a legal dispute that has since gotten ugly. What's the Prosecutor's Office's take?
The Prosecutor's Office's take is that it's wrong to talk about a legal dispute. When the Central Criminal Police became aware of the circumstances of the formalization of the service relationship in question in 2020, they issued the PPA with a formal notice informing the latter that an ostensible service relationship and rotation could lead to a crime. It's important to note here that such an act only turns into a potential crime once a pension is applied for on the basis of this ostensible service relationship. In other words, at the time, both the PPA and Eerik Heldna had the opportunity to prevent the suspected act in question.
The act was completed with the [submission of the] pension application last May, and information about the possible crime reached the Prosecutor's Office with the initiating of proceedings last fall. The fact that proceedings were initiated is alone already an indication of the Prosecutor's Office's legal assessment of the situation — if the elements of a crime become evident, we are obliged by law to launch proceedings and granted the right to determine the circumstances.
Why was a suspicion brought and why were public procedural acts conducted just now? Why weren't these done sooner already, or later, such as after the end of Vaher's term of office?
There's never a good or right time to bring suspicions in criminal proceedings. Criminal proceedings move at their own pace, and last week the procedural authority and the prosecution reached the point in their proceedings of bringing a suspicion.
By that time, we had gathered enough information via groundwork, and in order to ascertain the truth, it was necessary to reach the next evidence, meaning bringing a suspicion and questioning suspects, among other things.
What is the overall evidence in this case? Are there other things on top of signed contracts that indicate that Vaher and Heldna made a deal to conclude a fictitious employment contract needed to receive a special pension? Vaher has all but hinted at some sort of recordings — do such things exist?
A lot of information was gathered last week, the analysis and certification as evidence of which is still underway. In order to ascertain the truth, collected information is being analyzed and people are being questioned who may have information regarding the appointment and supposed posting.
Can we expect the pool of suspects to broaden anytime soon?
Based on the available information, there are currently grounds to suspect one person of committing fraud and five people of aiding fraud. Investigations are being conducted to ascertain the truth.
I will note, however, that according to the suspicion, the act was committed in a covert manner, and therefore it cannot be currently ruled out that in the process of analyzing the evidence, we arrive at circumstances of which we were previously unaware.
Several people have asked whether a €400 special pension is ultimately worth the candle. How big of a sum are we really talking about? What is Heldna's expected income after completing his length of service?
It isn't possible to straightforwardly calculate the total sum. Other authorities' comments have rightly stated, however, that the suspect Eerik Heldna's special pension length of service would mean receiving a pension of significantly more than approximately €400 [per month] — exceeding a couple thousand euros — upon reaching retirement age. Moreover, we must not forget that this is a monthly payment. To date, a total of approximately €5,000 has been paid out to Eerik Heldna, but in the case of so-called special pensions, you must bear in mind that this is an indexed sum that increases each year.
Is there significant public interest in this matter, and could this end with the principle of opportunity, for example?
Criminal proceedings take time, and right now it's too soon to talk about this yet. First all of the gathered information must be processed and formalized as evidence, and only then can it be considered whether and how proceedings will continue following the completion of pretrial proceedings. There is certainly public interest in these proceedings. A separate question is whether public procedural interest exists as well, which above all means — do these proceedings necessarily have to reach a conviction and punishment?
Do you believe the reputational costs to Estonia's law enforcement organizations involved in this case are proportional?
No one is above the law in Estonia. It would be the totally wrong approach if we put potential reputational damage before rights and justice. Acting that way could potentially lead to even greater reputational damage as well as a threat to security, as those granted an indulgence or to whom a blind eye is turned could themselves become susceptible to influence activities.
Do Elmar Vaher and Eerik Heldna generally seem to be honest people?
Overall assessments do not play a role in the decision to initiate criminal proceedings. We follow the law, and if the elements of a crime become evident, we are obliged to launch proceedings.
Considering the situation doesn't initially appear very complicated, when could this potentially reach court?
Processing, systemizing and formalizing gathered information as evidence takes time, and right now it's too soon to gauge how long it will take to complete pretrial proceedings.
On March 21, 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 on suspicions of fraud and aiding fraud, respectively, brought by the Estonian Internal Security Service (ISS).
Likewise suspected of aiding fraud are Central Criminal Police chief Aivar Alavere, PPA Internal Control Office director Priit Pärnka and Toomas Lõhmus, head of the Operations Office of the Central Criminal Police.
According to the suspicion, in April 2019, 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) and that same day placed on rotation 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.
Editor: Aili Vahtla