The supervisory board of Ukraine aid NGO Slava Ukraini has decided to recall manager Johanna-Maria Lehtme from the board for the duration of criminal investigations in Ukraine and Estonia.
"Estonia has presumption of innocence, meaning that the supervisory board in no way passes judgment on Lehtme with this decision," the body said.
The Slava Ukraini supervisory board added that the organization's in-house audit will take some time during which it is prepared to cooperate with investigative organs and hand over all necessary information.
"These questions have been relevant since early March. Unfortunately, the supervisory board's limited rights and resources have made it impossible to answer them."
"That is why we welcome criminal proceedings in Estonia and Ukraine which will hopefully allow the authorities to ascertain whether there has been misuse of donations from Estonia or not."
The supervisory board decided to recall Lehtme starting from May 9 to ensure the smooth operation of the NGO and avoid a conflict of interest. Marika Priske will remain the sole management board member.
Johanna-Maria Lehtme's official statement
As she had promised to do, Johanna Maria-Lehtme made a statement on the matter Wednesday, in order to aid the investigation. The statement follows in its entirety.
I completely understand the board of NGO Slava Ukraini's decision to recall me from the position of board member, in order to preserve the organization from the public pressure and attention which has essentially brought all of its constructive activity to a halt.
The charity, created to help Ukraine, has found itself under an unprecedented amount of attention in recent months, and this decision will hopefully bring some relief and dispel rumors.
In my view, it is not realistic to deal with those doubts which have been made public in any way other than through the answers brought by the investigations initiated by the association itself, and by the prosecutor's offices.
This is vital, since many have already passed judgment, anticipating the worst from both Slava Ukraini and his partners.
This interest has not been abating, but the current development, also gives me personally, in addition to the managers of Slava Ukraini, a freer rein with which to safeguard my rights, and the opportunity to distance myself from commenting on the allegations currently under investigation.
I no longer have an active role with the association, nor any access to information about Slava Ukraini's work.
I have handed over all the work documents and correspondence I had in my possession to Marika Priske, board member of the association, and I am convinced that she, as the association's head, will pass on all the necessary information.
Although I no longer have access to any information held by the association, due to my removal from the post of board member, I confirm that I will be providing my fullest contribution to all three proceedings. To date, the pursuers of none of these have yet made contact with me, but I assure you that I am ready to fully cooperate in clarifying the circumstances, and bringing the truth to light.
I would like to thank all those people who have supported the embattled Ukrainian people via the Slava Ukraini association, and I can state that I acted only out of a need to provide help to those in need in Ukraine, as rapidly as possible, while I have never misappropriated any donated funds.
I would also like to thank all the members of the Slava Ukraini team, who have acted with dedication and good faith in order to help all Ukrainians suffering as a result of the war.
The reports of potential violations [of the use of funds] in Ukraine have come as an extremely unpleasant surprise for me, too, and I hope that the audit from the association itself, along with the procedures being carried out by the Ukrainian and Estonian defenders of the law will provide answers to questions and create clarity on these charges.
May 10, 2023
Lehtme was elected as a Riigikogu MP with Eesti 200 at the March 5 election. Pre-election campaign material expressly referred to her as a helper of Ukraine.
Editor's note: This article was updated to include Johanna-Maria Lehtme's statement.
Editor: Marcus Turovski, Andrew Whyte