Court rejects recusal applications in Port of Tallinn case

The Port of Tallinn court case.
The Port of Tallinn court case. Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

In the Port of Tallinn case, which was restarted from scratch this week, the court has rejected applications by the defense for the recusal of judge Kristina Väliste and lay judge Vladimir Simagin.

On Tuesday, the Port of Tallinn case, which first reached court in 2019, began again from the start at Tallinn's Harju County Court.

During the very first session of the newly restarted trial, defense lawyers filed an application for the dismissal of judge Kristina Väliste and lay judge Vladimir Simagin.

On Thursday, the court ruled that the application for recusal would not be granted and the case will continue the case with the current composition of judges.

If the court had decided to dismiss the two judges, the case would then have had to be referred to the director of the Harju County Court, as judges cannot initiate proceedings against themselves.

The Port of Tallinn case was due to be heard by a new panel of judges after the court had granted a request by previous lay judge Peeter Kaasik, to be removed from the proceedings due to ill health.

According to the Code of Criminal Procedure and the Estonian Supreme Court precedents, the case must now be heard again from the beginning. In April 2020, the Supreme Court had ruled that criminal cases must be adjudicated by the same panel of judges for their entire duration. In other words, trials cannot continue midway through with a replacement lay judge, unless that lay judge has already previously been involved in the proceedings.

There had initially been a lay judge involved in the Port of Tallinn case, however he was removed last June, after doubts arose regarding his impartiality.

Case history

The Port of Tallinn case first reached court in 2019. Since then, 90 hearings have been held, with further ones having been planned to continue until March 28, 2024.

The Estonian Internal Security Service (ISS or KAPO) arrested the defendants Allan Kiil and Ain Kaljurand in 2015. Both were charged with accepted major bribes in their capacity as heads of the port company over a decade-long period.

According to the charges, Kiil allegedly received the majority of the bribes, amounting to almost €3 million, from representatives of Turkish and Polish shipyards, which ultimately won contracts for a sales contract with Port of Tallinn subsidiary TS Laevad's for its new Saaremaa and Hiiumaa ferries.

Ain Kaljurand stands accused of accepting €400,000 in bribes and Martin Paide €40,000.

The first court decision was delivered in May 2019 when defendant Valdo Õunap, who had been charged with being an accomplice to an act of bribery and money laundering, cut a deal for a two-year conditional sentence.

The court terminated Allan Kiil's case in October 2020 after the defendant became seriously ill and was unable to participate in the trial. Kiil passed away last June.

Last December, Estonian weekly Eesti Ekspress wrote, that the court had also terminated the case of Sven Honga, who had also been charged with bribery, due to the expiration of the statute of limitations. Honga was accused of paying bribes in the period between 2007 and 2012.


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Editor: Michael Cole

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