Transferring large sums to companies reporting solid profits should be ruled out in the world of charity, and answers by the supervisory board of NGO Slava Ukraini and its head Johanna-Maria Lehtme have not been exhaustive, said Steven-Hristo Evestus, head of Transparency International Estonia.
Suspicions revolve around donations made by Estonian NGO Slava Ukraini after it turned out the nonprofit has transferred €1.5 million to a Ukrainian private company that had no other discernible activity but made a profit of €250,000 last year.
Steven-Hristo Evestus, head of Transparency International Estonia, said on the "Terevisioon" morning show that there are more questions than answers today, and the story that first broke in daily Eesti Päevaleht raises troubling points.
"Talking about charity, transferring large sums of money to companies turning a solid profit should be out of the question," he said. "While those involved in mediating donations, buying and offering goods and services are entitled to a modest overhead, the sums in question are rather questionable."
Evestus said that €250,000 is definitely on the other side of what could be considered sensible, adding, however, that he is not up to speed on all the details.
"What I can say is that the explanations [Johanna-Maria] Lehtme and the nonprofit's supervisory board have given so far have hardly been exhaustive, allowed questions to remain. Their relationship with that particular partner remains unclear, as well as how it offered its ancillary services."
Evestus said that while organizations in charge of donations must do their due diligence regarding partners, Slava Ukraini's partner in Ukraine went through peculiar changes of leadership, has a lot of areas of activity listed, while its actual sphere of focus remains unclear.
"Slava Ukraini keeps telling us that all of the aid [from donations] has reached those in need, while we now have a company in the middle of it regarding which there are serious questions," the head of Transparency International Estonia suggested.
Evestus said that aid organizations regularly work with companies but must still be able to do their due diligence on partners, giving as a positive example Estonian NGO Mondo in whose humanitarian aid projects he has participated.
The former prosecutor added that NGO Slava Ukraini seems to be experiencing growing pains.
He emphasized that attention to this matter does not constitute an information operation aimed against NGO Slava Ukraini or Lehtme, and that it is entirely normal to seek transparency when it comes to donations. It should not stand when 5-10 percent of the money needs to be paid as unclear mediation fees or goes toward corruption.
Evestus remarked that law enforcement must take care to protect every donor's interests. Secondly, the NGO's ongoing review of activities must concretize the responsibility of board members and determine whether steps were not taken on purpose.
He remarked that Lehtme should not avoid the public or try to rebuff questions. "I believe Lehtme is very much late [answering questions] and it is not good we have been forced to wait so long."
Head of Slava Ukraini's supervisory board Kristo Tohver said on Monday that the nonprofit was unaware of the fact their Ukrainian partner made a profit off money it received from Slava Ukraini. The NGO does not plan to sever ties with Lehtme before the results of the review are in.
Lehtme is an MP for Eesti 200. Party leader Lauri Hussar said on Monday that he does not have enough information to shape a position on Lehtme.
Editor: Marcus Turovski