The Port of Tallinn corruption trial, which kicked off back in 2019, will move back to square one due to a lay judge's withdrawal.
The Harju County Court satisfied lay judge Peeter Kaasik's request to be removed from the trial due to health reasons and will present the new lineup of judges at the April 11 hearing.
According to the Code of Criminal Procedure and Supreme Court precedents, the trial will need to begin anew. Estonia's top court found in a decision from 2020 that the same panel of judges needs to try criminal cases from start to finish. Therefore, proceedings cannot be picked up where they left off after a lay judge is replaced when no acting lay judge has been appointed.
The judges' panel in first instance criminal cases must include two lay judges and can also have an assistant lay judge.
The court has set additional session dates until January 2025. It was also explained that motions for termination based on the limitation period or reasonable time of proceedings filed with the previous panel can no longer be resolved as the panel is currently incomplete and the new panel will have to try the case from the beginning.
The court proposed treating evidence already disclosed and examined as public, based on an agreement between the parties, and not to examine it again. The court was hearing from the defense's first witness when the trial was interrupted.
Because the court's need to replace one of the lay judges is the only reason for the restart, the defense has been given the chance to present its objections and positions. The court found that it should be in everyone's shared interest to get back to where the trial was interrupted with as little repetition and additional time spent as possible.
While an acting lay judge was appointed in addition to the two lay judges when the trial began, the former was removed from proceedings last June, following suspicions of bias.
Prosecutor: If evidence counted, trial would only be a few days longer
Case prosecutor Denis Tšasovskih said that counting evidence so far presented would only add a few days to the length of the trial.
"We deem it possible to continue proceedings and find that it is possible to achieve a ruling and have it enter into force inside a sensible time frame if all recent evidence is treated as presented. Procedural rules afford this opportunity. This would only drag the trial out by a few days. However, this requires sincere interest from the parties to take the matter forward," Tšasovskih said.
Keres: Reasonable time of proceedings has come and gone
Ain Kaljurand's defender Paul Keres said that the reasonable time for proceedings has ended in the Port of Tallinn case, which is why he expects them to be terminated.
He said that a part of evidence can probably be treated as public and examined, while objections by the defense might make it more problematic regarding other things. The defense counsel also said that the testimony of most witnesses can probably be used, while he will need more time to determine whether this applies to all witnesses.
Keres said that he finds the case to be past its limitation period and reasonable time of proceedings, which the European Court of Human Rights has put at seven years for more complex criminal cases.
"I believe the case expired a long time ago, last fall at the latest. But we haven't heard the court's position on this yet. This should have been decided by the previous panel, as the court pointed out today."
The attorney said that the defense has moved for termination and is waiting to see what the court will decide regarding the motion.
Case from 2015
The case landed in court in 2019, with 90 hearings held since then. Hearings were planned to continue until March 28 next year.
The Internal Security Service (ISS or KAPO) arrested defendants Allan Kiil and Ain Kaljurand in 2015. According to the charges, Kiil and Kaljurand accepted major bribes as heads of the port company over a decade.
The charges hold that Kiil received the lion's share of the bribes from Turkish and Polish shipyards that ended up with contracts for Port of Tallinn subsidiary TS Laevad's new Saaremaa and Hiiumaa ferries – nearly €3 million. Ain Kaljurand is accused of accepting €400,000 in bribes and Martin Paide €40,000.
The first court decision came in May 2019 when defendant Valdo Õunap cut a deal for a two-year conditional sentence for aiding and abetting giving a bribe and money laundering.
The court terminated the case of Allan Kiil in October 2020 after the defendant took seriously ill and was unable to participate in the trial. Kiil died last June.
Weekly Eesti Ekspress wrote in December of last year that the court terminated the case of Sven Honga, charged with giving a bribe, due to the limitation period expiring. Honga was accused of giving bribes in 2007-2012.
Editor: Marcus Turovski