Eesti Ekspress: Eesti 200 MP engaged in embezzlement at previous employer

Johanna-Maria Lehtme.
Johanna-Maria Lehtme. Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

An Eesti 200 MP and head of an NGO at the heart of an alleged embezzlement scandal had to resign from a previous job after being accused of similar activity, investigative weekly Eesti Ekspress reports.

Johanna-Maria Lehtme, who won a seat for coalition party Eesti 200 at the March 5 election after running on a campaign which referenced aid she has provided to Ukraine, is temporarily suspended as CEO of Slava Ukraini, following allegations of embezzlement.

Those allegations are the subject of ongoing investigations both in Estonia and in Ukraine, but, Eesti Ekspress writes (link in Estonian), while working as project manager at the (European Women's Academy of Political Leadership and Campaigning (EWA), Lehtme had been found to have falsified expense documents to the tune of "a four-digit euro sum."

Eesti Ekspress' source was the founder of EWA and of PR firm Miltton, Annika Arras, who said that when confronted with the accusations of embezzlement, backed up by documentation proving it, Lehtme and Arras agreed that she would stop working for the company and would also reimburse the missing funds.

That Arras has only now gone public with this information relates to the Slava Ukraini saga as reported in the Estonian media in recent weeks; Arras said the pair last spoke in 2017, when she, Arras, told Lehtme in no uncertain terms that: "Do you not understand that what you are doing is illegal and that people get jailed for doing these types of things, and this will be a future you will face if you continue doing so."

At the same time, Arras says now that she pledged to keep the matter between the two of them, on the condition that Lehtme not do anything of the kind again – adding that should Arras have reason to believe that Lehtme was using the contacts she had made at EWA and Miltton to make ill-gotten gains, Arras would break this agreement of silence.

Eesti Ekspress contacted Lehtme in relation to what had happened at EWA and Miltton, and was told that she was willing to answer their questions, though would not be able to do so until Wednesday next week.

Lehtme has consistently denied any misuse of Slava Ukraini funds.

A whistle-blower in Ukraine, currently under house arrest over what he says are trumped-up charges, reported widespread embezzlement via invoices with inflated prices in respect of work such as providing field ambulances and pre-packaged food to Ukraine.

The whistle-blower, Oleksandr Tšernov, claims that Lehtme also knew the head of IC Construction, the company on the ground in Ukraine which is alleged to be at the center of the activity, though Lehtme denies this.

Lehtme polled at 5,251 votes on March 5, the strongest result for Eesti 200, which won its first Riigikogu seats at the time, having been founded in 2018.

She was the subject of much unquestioning adulation in the media as a result of her supposed work on behalf of Ukraine, but more than that, has been decorated with many of the most significant national awards.

So far she has been named European of the Year, as awarded by the European Commission in Estonia, Citizen of the Year, awarded by the Ministry of the Interior, and picked up the Foreign Ministry's award, III Class. She also received the woman of the year award last year.

Her most prestigious award has come from the state, the Order of the White Star (Valgetähe), Class IV which she was granted in February this year by President Alar Karis.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte

Source: Eesti Ekspress

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