There is no evidence of intentional violations on the part of a ministry deputy secretary general's oversight in not declaring ownership of share options with mobility app firm Bolt, both the Prosecutor's Office and the CEO of NGO Corruption-free Estonia (Korruptsioonivaba Eesti) say.
Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications deputy secretary general Sandra Särav hit the headlines Wednesday after it was revealed that she had not reported ownership of Bolt share options, which she obtained as a former employee.
The matter was compounded by the fact that in her role, Särav is likely to be the recipient of lobbying on the part of Bolt in, particularly with regard to keeping regulation as reasonable as possible – something which Särav herself has stated is a worthwhile goal, for companies in general.
However, Kairi Küngas, Prosecutor's Office PR manager, told ERR that: "Based on what has been reported in the media so far, the prosecutor's office does not see any evidence of a crime having been committed, as things stand."
Sven.-Hristo Evestus, director of Corruption-free Estonia and a former prosecutor himself, took the same view, stating that Särav had expressed public views on the corporate sector more broadly - not with relation to any particular company – which in and of itself does not entail any obligation to step down.
"However, the whole case highlights the inescapable need for the mitigation of corruption," he added.
Evestus added that a declaration of interests is intended to ensure that an official is precluded from having a conflict of interest in relation to personal financial interests and work-related decisions and acts, in the first place.
Särav had also, as noted, worked for Bolt, whence she obtained the stock options – 50 percent of the maximum possible, which would require working there for four years (Särav worked as head of Bolt's government relations department for two years) – and subsequently moved to the public sector, ie. the ministry, after a spell with PR firm Meta.
Evestus said: "The move from the private sector to the public sector is a welcome one, but attention must be paid to ensuring that decision-making ... is avoided in the immediate interest of a previous employer."
Särav would have taken part in meetings and communications with Bolt, after she had joined the ministry – which she did last July.
" In the light of the so-called 'revolving door' effect, it is sensible to consider carefully in the future whether participation in lobbying meetings initiated by a former employer is justified, especially if this relationship is accompanied by economic interests related to the lobbyist," Evestus added.
Most recently, Särav told ERR the ministry does not support a European Commission's plan to require Bolt taxi drivers to pay VAT.
Säarv had said that she was unaware that declaring stock options – Bolt has not floated on the stock market – was required, and would rectify the oversight as soon as possible.
Meanwhile Ahti Kuningas, Secretary General at the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications, also backed Särav in saying she had not made any prejudiced decisions in her ministerial post and in any case did not act unilaterally at work.
Speaking to ETV news show "Aktuaalne kaamera" (AK) Wednesday, he said: "We don't have any one person dealing with all the issues; there's still a team behind us, right the way up to the minister (Riina Sikkut (SDE)-ed.).
"Such personal risks of all kinds are also mitigated in this way. /.../ For the past 10 years, we've had an initiative on the Uber theme, Bolt included,. then accommodation issues, we've had three different deputy secretaries general, different ministers.
We have always employed exactly the same principles; we have not changed course anywhere. I don't personally don't see anything here," he went on.
Meanwhile at the Ministry of Justice, advisers Kätlin-Chris Kruusmaa said that having stock options in such a position can, in theory, create a conflict of interest, which is why it is important that the employee rectifies things at the right moment.
"As a general rule, no decisions may be made against the persons involved. Related persons are named in law. A company is generally a related person if the official owns at least ten percent, or is a member of the management board or supervisory board of that particular company. /.../ But there may also be other interests, i.e. again, you should look inside this particular situation, into the situation, analyze it, and if this other interest can be identified there, then you should rectify matters."
Särav said Wednesday that she and Bolt co-founder are, as former colleagues, friends and occasionally meet for lunch, though do not discuss work matters.
Another charge laid at her door was that improving the regulatory environment for Bolt would likely have a knock-on, positive effect on its share price should it ever float, which in turn would benefit the holder of Bolt shares.
Särav said at the time the stock options were given to her, there notional value would have been in the region of a couple of thousand euros.
Editor: Andrew Whyte, Mari Peegel, Liisbeth Rats, Merili Nael
Source: 'Aktuaalne kaamera'