Riigikogu environment committee chair subject of two misdemeanor processes
An Eesti 200 MP who heads up the Riigikogu's environment committee is the subject of two misdemeanor proceedings relating to his timber business activities in the village of Käsmu, Lääne-Viru County.
The environment committee as its name suggests is responsible for issues and bills concerning environment protection, use of natural resources and the protection of natural objects, according to the Riigikogu's website.
Tarmo Tamm won a Riigikogu seat in the Lääne-Viru County electoral district at the March 5 election, polling 876 votes.
He is an experienced timber entrepreneur, and while running for the Riigikoku, he presented himself as an expert in hunting ecology by education.
He has been engaged in the timber industry for most of his working life, and is currently a partner and board member of Peetri Puit/Arcwood, which deals in glued laminated timber (glulam).
Tamm (whose second name actually means oak tree in Estonian-ed.) noted on the Eesti 200 website that he resides in Tallinn in winter and in Käsmu, a picturesque fishing village on the peninsula of the same name, in the summer months – an arrangement which he has had in place for 20 years.
It was in the vicinity of his summer residence that logging activity relating to the two misdemeanor proceedings took place. The misdemeanor proceedings were opened in February, in connection with the state Environmental Board (Keskkonnaamet).
Olav Avarsalu, Deputy Director General at the Environmental Board, holding the supervision portfolio, told ERR that these misdemeanor proceedings concern timber activity in Käsmu village.
In respect of one of the proceedings, Tarmo Tamm has been questioned as a natural person (Füüsiline isik, a recognized legal term-ed.), while in the other case he has been questioned as a legal person (Juriidiline isik), namely as the representative of the NGO Käsmu Majaka Sadama.
This NGO's board includes major entrepreneurs Heiti Hääl and Tiit Pruuli.
Tamm's status as a Käsmu Majaka Sadama board member ended on May 8 this year, ie. after the proceedings commenced (it is perfectly legal for sitting MPs to be NGO board members-ed.).
Avarsalu told ERR that: "At the moment, these proceedings are still ongoing, and the precise circumstances of the cases are still being determined."
Tamm has repeatedly stated that he is not at fault. He told ERR that the reason for the proceedings being initiated must be asked from those who initiated said proceedings. "Humanly speaking, I think that if citizens were to approach the Environmental Board, they would have to process that," he added.
Tamm became Riigikogu environmental committee chair on April 18, and in relation to this appointment, questions were raised as to whether he might have a conflict of interest in this position, given his interests in the timber trade, but neither Tamm nor Eesti 200's Riigikogu group saw any inherent problem here.
Furthermore, at the start of this week – week commencing May 22 – when the first reading of the nomination of new members of the Environmental Investment Center (KIK) was held at the Riigikogu, Eesti 200 MPs nominated Tamm as a member.
Opposition MPs from the Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE) then investigated whether there was any potential conflict of interest here, too.
Tamm said of this that: "I considered it quickly, and I categorically deny that I have any kind of conflict of interest here."
EKRE MPs also asked Tamm whether it might not be wiser to hold off putting himself forward for the KIK board before the results of the two current misdemeanor proceedings are published, but Tamm effectively cleared himself of any wrongdoing in respect of this.
"The fact that the Environmental Board is conducting investigations is completely normal," he added.
The role of the Riigikogu's environmental committee is to process, among other things, the state's environmental policies and protection, the use of natural resources and protection of nature, and to discuss development plans on environmental issues.
The KIK deals with the financing of environmental projects in Estonia, and handles both domestic and EU funding here.
In the past, Tamm's firm Peetri Puit, in which he has a stake via STR Invest OÜ, has itself also received support from KIK.
In 2018, the KIK allocated €20 million to Peetri Puit via the measure "Energy and resource efficiency of enterprises," in order to develop the production capacity of cross-laminated timber. This project was completed by the end of 2021.
Liimpuit AS also belongs to the Peetri Puit group, which had a 2021 turnover of €26.7 million and a net profit of €3.2 million. The company employed 100 people and had reported assets of €24.6 million at that time.
Some of the company's most significant completed projects are: The Saaremaa State High School (Saaremaa riigigümnaasium), the Tallinn Püha Johannes school, the Sillamäe Vanalinna school, and projects involving Latvijas Finieris, a major plywood manufacturer headquartered in Riga, Latvia.
The use of timber is prominent in most of the construction work of these projects, while the coalition agreement signed in April between Eesti 200, the Reform Party and the Social Democrats (SDE) also includes a clause stating that new public buildings must preferably be built of wood.
Tamm also has holdings in many other companies; for example, MTJ Vara OÜ, which focuses on entertainment and leisure.
While its turnover is modest, its partner is entrepreneur Priit Alamäe, the who donated the most to Eesti 200 last year from any single private individual, and through Defendest OÜ, another partner was Foreign Minister Margus Tsahkna, also of Eesti 200, though the latter stepped down from the board, as required, on being made minister.
Other interests of Tamm's include Balic OÜ (IT), Targad Näod OÜ (real estate management), Cataran Holding OÜ (timber), GT Trading OÜ (brokering of wood and building materials sales), Nordic Projekt (limited partnership in the service sector), Ishaya OÜ (wood sales and brokerage) and Chat OÜ (catering).
When presenting his views on forestry while running for the March 5 Riigikogu elections, Tamm said that significantly more money arising from that sector could be retained by the state – which would mean not reducing felling volumes significantly.
He said: "Every hectare of managed forest brings the state around €2,000 in added value, and this figure could potentially be even more. If we reduce felling volumes, the state will get less money, while if we boost it, the state will get more income. When there is more money, not can only roads get built, but many other things can benefit: Teachers' salaries, medical care, pensions, first responders and so on. The funds don't just appear in the state budget."
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Editor: Andrew Whyte