State prosecutor rejects Margus Kurm officials' work rotation claims

Maria Entsik.
Maria Entsik. Source: State Prosecutor's Office.

State Prosecutor Maria Entsik has rejected claims made by the defense counsel for the former a Tax and Customs Board (MTA) chief and the former head of the Police and Border Guard Board (PPA) that alleged irregularities in a work rotation system as applied to top officials in Estonia have been carried out at other times.

Entsik also objected to what she referred to as the defendants' case being made via the media.

Entsik made her remarks in response to the claims mage by Margus Kurm, defender for former PPA chief Elmar Vaher and Eerik Heldna; the former is under investigation over the alleged facilitation of arranging the latter's work rotation such that his pension rights would be guaranteed, while no actual rotation took place.

Kurm has also said that Heldna had fallen foul of the Internal Security Service (ISS), and that the fault also lies with the special pensions system for top officials itself.

In a written response to ERR's questions and following the defense counsel's statements, State Prosecutor Entsik stated that: "In the opinion of the prosecutor's office, no crime that the prosecutor's office need to investigate has been committed in the cases highlighted by Margus Kurm."

"In all of the cases in question, although the officers have been on duty for a limited time or to a limited extent, they have actually been on duty and on rotation," Entsik went on.

"In the current criminal proceedings, evidence gathered ... indicates that Eerik Heldna was not in the service of the PPA at the time of the so-called rotation decision, while the purpose of the apparent service relationship created for him was solely to ensure pension rights. Hence the difference in these cases," she continued.

"If, at the end of the pre-trial proceedings, it is proven that in April 2019, the suspects created a service relationship with PPA in order for Heldna merely to ensure the right to a pension and not to actually be hired, the prosecution will send the criminal case to the court to evaluate the evidence and to consider the arguments of the prosecution and the defense counsel."

"The final assessment of the evidence collected, the question of the suspects' guilt and the qualification of any crime would then be ruled on by the court," Entsik added.

Entsik also noted that it is perfectly natural that the suspects ni the case would want to defend themselves per se, but in this criminal case, they have begun to actively defend themselves via the media, too. 

"The prosecutor's office does not consider it appropriate for the rule of law to respond to the arguments of the defense counsel via the media, at the current stage of the criminal proceedings, pointing to concrete evidence," Entsik added.

The Interior Minister is preparing a clearer overview of what went on in relation to the work rotations, while Entsik said of key importance is the exact goals parties to Heldna's rotation to the Estonian Defense Forces when this was established.

If the sole intention was to ensure pension rights, this would constitute fraud, she added.

The Estonian Internal Security Service (ISS) on March 21 brought suspicions of fraud against Tax and Customs Board customs chief Eerik Heldna and of facilitating fraud against head of the Police and Border Guard Board (PPA) Elmar Vaher.

According to the suspicions, Heldna was seemingly registered as an employee of the PPA in April 2019, only to be rotated to the Estonian Defense Forces (EDF) Intelligence Center, where he had de facto been working for a year that exact day, with Vaher's active participation.

The rotation itself is does not infringe the regulations; the suspicions only relate to alleged fraudulent activity.

Both Vaher and Heldna have denied wrongdoing.

Margus Kurm, acting as defense counsel for Heldna and Vaher, said in a piece published Tuesday that faults with the special pensions system are to blame, while the criminal proceedings are motivated by a conflict between Heldna and the Internal Security Service (ISS).

Kurm said: "The appointment and rotation were legal because no rules were broken in how these decisions were made. The Police and Border Guard Act has ten sections on rotating officials. General rotation norms are provided in the Public Service Act. None of these legal norms have been violated."


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Editor: Andrew Whyte, Mait Ots

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