Former PPA chief disciplinary proceedings wound up
Former Police and Border Guard Board (PPA) Director General Elmar Vaher in effect ran the clock out on disciplinary proceedings relating to allegations of fraud, after his contractual term ended, on May 2.
Vaher opted not to give comment or explanation during these proceedings, and then appealed to the courts to have them halted.
By this time, his term of service ended, leaving the Ministry of the Interior to wind up disciplinary proceedings.
The PPA falls under the interior ministry's remit.
Tarmo Olgo, head of the ministry's internal audit department, said the law provides for such an eventuality.
"If there are criminal proceeding goings running concurrently, a defendant is not obliged to reiterated any statements given in the course of the criminal proceeding, in those second proceedings," Olgo said.
"If [Vaher] has opted to do that and chosen it as a defense tactic for himself, then that is his choice, and all we can do is accept it," Olgo went on.
Vaher did state in his appeal that the disciplinary procedure started in March had not clearly outlined where he was at fault.
Olgo thought that this was circular logic, however.
"Is that not the subject of the ongoing court proceedings, to ascertain how thoroughly the culpability needs to be explained," Olgo said. The purpose of disciplinary proceedings is to get to the bottom of circumstances and guilt or innocence, he added.
"At the point at which the disciplinary procedure is started, there will be no complete picture of what happened, meaning outlining it in detail is not viable," Olgo went on.
The fact that the court granted Vaher preliminary legal protection for the duration of the hearings was standard, Olgo added.
As for the interior ministry, this can certainly examine the documents, but cannot form any assessment of the disciplinary procedure, for as long as this preliminary legal protection is in place, he continued.
Even as the litigation continues, if the first-tier administrative court grants any right to the ministry this is a moot point since the ministry has wrapped up the proceedings anyway, and Vaher's PPA term of service has ended.
One week after Vaher was detained by the Internal Security Service (ISS), which happened on March 21, a triune committee met at the interior ministry, after which the disciplinary proceedings were commenced.
Their summary was to reach the interior minister, Lauri Läänemets (SDE), by the end of June.
Vaher was quizzed on his actions, particularly with relation to the rotation of top civil servants in different posts while retaining full pension rights – the heart of the issue – but, after pontificating on the matter, Vaher opted not to offer any explanations, communicating that decision via a representative.
Vaher is not the only party involved in the saga, hence the proceedings continuing.
At the same time, Vaher made his next move, which was to appeal to the administrative court, requesting the ministry's disciplinary proceedings be declared unlawful.
It was at this point that the court applied the initial legal protection, at Vaher's request, which in turn barred the interior ministry from making assessments on the matter.
"As of today, we are in a position where we have not been able to take very many actions in order to find out the truth," Olgo added.
As was already known, Vaher's term of service ends this month; while the government had stated it wanted a summary of the disciplinary proceedings by the end of August, following the interior ministry's deadline of the end of June for obtaining a summary too, ie. after the service term ended, a gamble was taken, according to Olgo, that these procedures could be wrapped up earlier.
This would have required Vaher gave his explanations quickly, let alone at all.
However, the PPA itself is also conducting its own inquiry – this is still of value given that it concerns the authority itself and not just Vaher
At the same time, the official supervision initiated by the ISS should also end.
As to whether this did not place a shroud of opacity over the whole case, Olgo noted that the key facts of the matter can be made public.
According to current Estonian law, he said, summaries of official investigations are public to the extent that they do not contain any information designated for internal use. "I think in an important way the public will get to know about this," Olgo said.
Minister Läänemets is to forward the relevant information to the cabinet on Thursday.
The termination of the disciplinary proceedings does not equate to an assessment, on the part of the ministry, as to whether Vaher violated his duties or not.
The Civil Service Act states that disciplinary proceedings can only be initiated while a public service term is current.
On March 21 this year, Vaher, together with Eerik Heldna, director of the Customs Department of the Estonian Tax and Customs Board (MTA), was detained by the ISS over suspicions of pension rights fraud. Heldna had reportedly remained registered as a PPA employee from April 2019 while simultaneously working for the Estonian Defense Forces, in and of itself perfectly legal; the issue arose after Heldna was registered as a continual PPA employee, facilitated by Vaher, in order to ensure continuity in full pension rights, it is alleged.
Both men stated at the time that they had followed the correct procedures.
Minister Läänemets, then removed Vaher from active service, though as noted his term was still valid to May 2, and also signed a decree to initiate service supervision with the aim of assessing the legality of personnel actions performed at the PPA over the preceding five years. Criminal proceedings are still ongoing.
Egert Belitšev was named acting PPA chief in Vaher's stead, and is now in the role permanently.
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Editor: Andrew Whyte, Mirjam Mäekivi
Source: ERR radio news, interviewer Madis Hindre.