The Office of the Prosecutor General on Tuesday launched criminal proceedings to investigate use of Ukraine aid sums by Estonian NGO Slava Ukraini. Proceedings were launched based on the section of the Penal Code on embezzlement.
Public Prosecutor Triinu Olev said that the prosecution and police started analyzing reports as soon as the first hints of possible misuse of funds reached the authorities.
"We have collected information other than what has been presented in the media, outside the scope of criminal proceedings, and been in direct touch with our colleagues in Ukraine. We have enough information to launch criminal proceedings."
"The investigation was launched based on the section of embezzlement, while this is a preliminary evaluation that could change as proceedings continue. No official suspicions have been brought, with the investigation to determine whether there will be grounds for it," Olev said.
Because NGO Slava Ukraini has had activities in Ukraine, working with the authorities there will play a crucial role in ascertaining all the circumstances. The criminal proceedings are being conducted by the Central Criminal Police on behalf of the Office of the Prosecutor General.
ERR has been asking the prosecution in Estonia whether they plan to launch proceedings in this case since March, while this was not deemed necessary until recently. It turned out on Monday that authorities in Ukraine have launched criminal proceedings on their end.
The prosecution in Ukraine told the country's public broadcaster that the National Bureau of Investigation launched pretrial investigation on March 24. Criminal proceedings were launched based on sections of criminal law dealing with embezzlement and use of humanitarian aid and charitable donations for profit. The case is investigated by the national investigations bureau because of the involvement of public officials. The prosecution is in charge of supervision.
Profit of €250,000 from donations by Estonians
It was revealed in April that NGO Slava Ukraini transferred €1.5 million in aid donations collected from Estonia to a private company called IC Construction with ties to its Ukrainian partners. The firm very likely has a fictitious owner and its activity was tied exclusively to the Estonian NGO. The Ukrainian company reported a profit of €250,000 last year.
Kristo Tohver, chairman of the supervisory board of Slava Ukraini, has said that the nonprofit had no idea IC Construction had turned a profit on money from Slava Ukraini. Tohver also said that, to the best of his knowledge, Slava Ukraini leader Johanna-Maria Lehtme has not profited from the donations.
NGO Slava Ukraini has commissioned an audit to investigate the use of funds.
Slava Ukraini founder and manager Johanna-Maria Lehtme has said she is willing to resign if necessary.
"As concerns Slava Ukraini, what matters to me is the nonprofit's good name, reputation and continued activity. Should the supervisory board or my fellow management board member Marika Priske find that it is time for me to leave, I will place the organization above personal interests, and it is possible to find a new head for Slava. However, I do not feel I should leave the Riigikogu at this time. It is still my task to support Ukraine and do it comprehensively," Lehtme has previously said.
Editor: Marcus Turovski