NGO supervisory board chair: Org unaware of for-profit Ukraine activities

Kristo Tohver.
Kristo Tohver. Source: Ken Mürk/ERR

The supervisory board chair of a Non-Governmental Organization which provides support for Ukraine and which has come under scrutiny over the destination of some of the funds donated to it says that the body did not knowingly transfer money to a for-profit partner in Ukraine.

Kristo Tohver, Supervisory Board Chair of NGO Slava Ukraini, one of the highest-profile charities providing support for Ukraine and set up after Russia's invasion starting February 2022 said that not only he, but also the NGO's CEO, Johanna-Maria Lehtme, had no knowledge of one of the beneficiaries of Slava Ukraini donations had misused the funds.

Items provided to Ukraine by Slava Ukraini and purchased with donated money include clothing, including of a military variety, and first aid kits.

Tohver says an audit needs to be carried out, after which a clearer picture of what happened can be obtained.

The case is likely to have a significant, negative impact on the amount of donations Slava Ukraini receives going forward, he added.

Leaders of the partner organization on the ground in Ukraine reportedly have links to IC Construction, a private sector firm which made a 2022 profit of €250,000 and is allegedly in effect a shell company registered to a fictitious owner's name.

Lehtme ran for Eesti 200 at the March 5 Riigikogu election, with campaign posters specifically heralding her status as a supporter of Ukraine, and won a seat – with the largest vote tally of any candidate from that party.

Tohver told ETV news show "Aktuaalne kaamera" (AK) that: "I think that Johanna-Maria Lehtme did not have any knowledge [of the alleged misuse of Slava Ukraini funds by the beneficiary] either. However, we had, and continue to have, doubts about how effectively IC Construction has handled the money they have received."

Slava Ukraini is pressing on with all projects not related to IC Constructions, Tohver added.

"We just just approved at board level a proposal to conclude a nine-month cooperation agreement with the PULSE charitable organization, to conduct first aid training for 8,100 front-line soldiers, totaling €132,030, and to donate 700 Individual First Aid Kit (IFAK) bags to PULSE, for distribution to those on the front," he went on.

As to how many donors remain committed to Slava Ukraini, Tohver said: "The best overview of the situation will be obtainable when the NGO Slava Ukraini starts with various new projects and campaigns," adding that donations must reach those in need in the most efficient manner possible.

This necessitates procuring goods and services on the behalf of beneficiaries rather than simply sending money, while at the same time the procurement process must be fair, taking into account both the need for the rapid arrival of aid and the expediency of using funds for that purpose.

In respect of IC Constructions, he added that: "If the profit figures reported are true, the it is certainly not justified to make such a profit, at that margin."

At the same time, Slava Ukraini will not part company with Johanna-Maria Lehtme, until after the impending audit's results are known, while Lehtme has cooperated with the NGO fully on the matter, Tohver added.

The NGO has made some changes to its management, namely by installing a two-member management board, with joint representation rights, Tohver said.

Additionally, any transactions of €10,000 or more must be approved by the supervisory board in advance, he said.

According to a report by Estonian daily Eesti Päevaleht (link in Estonian) on Saturday, Slava Ukraini transferred €1.5 million in donations collected inside Estonia, to IC construction. It remains unclear what the Estonian NGO received in return.

Whether a criminal complaint will be filed with the prosecutor's office hinges on the results of the audit, being conducted by BDO Eesti.

The latter had been selected partly on the criteria of how quickly the audit can be carried out, though Tohver was unable to give time-frame as such.

The prosecutor's office said Monday that it has no grounds to open an investigation into Slava Ukraini at present, not least since the allegations concern activity which took place in a different jurisdiction, ie. Ukraine.

Eesti 200 chair and Riigikogu speaker Lauri Hussar added that he is not in possession of the full facts of the matter yet, and so cannot take a stance on Johanna-Maria Lehtme as the NGO's CEO or as an Eesti 200 MP.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte, Karin Koppel

Source: Aktuaalne kaamera

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