Pruunsild lawyer demands retraction, apology over prosecutor opinion piece

Paul Keres, acting for Parvel Pruunsild.
Paul Keres, acting for Parvel Pruunsild. Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

Defense counsel for a businessman and major Isamaa donor is demanding a retraction of allegations in an opinion piece penned by a prosecutor and which was published by public broadcaster ERR last month.

An Internal Security Service (ISS) investigation which became public knowledge in early June has Parvel Pruunsild, owner of lenders BigBank, as a suspect in putting pressure on former Tartu deputy mayor Priit Humal (Isamaa) in obtaining favorable terms for the purchase of a property in Estonia's second city.

Acting for Pruunsild, Sworn Advocate Paul Keres sent a letter to southern district senior prosecutor Kretel Tamm, who is both heading the prosecution in the pre-trial proceedings, and is the author of the opinion piece in question.

Keres demanded a refutation of statements made in an opinion piece penned by Tamm herself, saying that: "These statements are false and defame the honor and reputation of Parvel Pruunsild."

He also demanded an apology be issued alongside the retraction.

"Furthermore, among the tasks the prosecutor's office holds is refraining from directing public sentiment, or communicating sentiment to the public, about an ongoing criminal case. In this light, it is clear that you have expressed views expressed in the article on dated June 9, 2023, on behalf of yourself, as a natural person," Keres went on – natural person (Estonian: Füüsiline isik) is a legal definition roughly corresponding to that of a private individual.

As of Wednesday, there had been no new developments in the criminal case involving Pruunsild and Humal, Keres told ERR.

A cellphone confiscated from Pruunsild by investigators has been returned to him, but a computer also seized has been retained as evidence.

Lisanna Männilaan, PR advisor at the Southern and Western District Prosecutor's Office, told ERR that the case is still at pre-trial proceedings stage.

Männilaan said: "There is no specific deadline for conducting these pre-trial proceedings, taking into account that in criminal proceedings, all circumstances related to the commission of an alleged crime must be ascertained; the pre-trial proceedings will be conducted over as long a period as necessary, but as swiftly as possible."

The opinion piece by Tamm was published June 9 on ERR's site (link in Estonian).

The article, Keres wrote, implied Pruunsild had aided former Tartu deputy mayor Priit Humala, or an individual close to him, to obtain a loan on unusually preferential terms, while Pruunsild's reported close personal relationship with Humala influenced decision-making processes by Tartu City Government.

Keres added that there it does not appear that Tamm had been in any way related to this procedure, meaning Tamm is responsible for her words as a private individual rather than as a prosecutor's office official.

Kretel Tamm. Source: Prosecutor's Office.

In his letter, Keres referenced the Law of Obligations Act, in respect of the publication of incorrect data, the violation of personal rights and damage to those rights, while Tamm is required to submit a statement to ERR refuting all data which Keres says is incorrect, via an article which would need to be published on the front page of the ERR portal and would be required to remain on the public broadcaster's front page for no less than eight consectuive hourse between the hours of 8 a.m. and 7 p.m., the exact time-slot would be Tamm's choice.

Keres demand further instructs that the article should have a white background, contain no illustrations or editorial comments or other addenda, while the font size would need to be at least 14 points in the original published version.

Prosecutor's office: State's position on the case also needs to be made public

Kairi Kaldoja, the chief prosecutor at the Southern District Prosecutor's Office, responded to Keres a week after it was sent, ERR reports. 

The response stated that the prosecutor's office does not believe that incorrect information about Pruunsild had been published in the article, meaning that Keres' demands are, in the opinion of the prosecutor's office, without merit.

Kaldoja wrote that: "Furthermore, in the case concerning the suspicion relating to Parvel Pruunsild, it was the suspect's choice and desire to reveal the content of said suspicion, by sharing it with the public. The task of the prosecutor's office, in addition to managing pre-trial proceedings and representing the prosecution in court, is also to stand up for objective coverage of an issue. If necessary, the prosecutor's office must ensure that the state's point of view and position reach the public."

This means prosecutors can give interviews and write opinion pieces on topics related to criminal law, Kaldoja added, though another prosecutor than the one leading proceedings can also carry out this task.

At the same time, any prosecutor is representing the prosecutor's office, and in turn, the state, when engaging in such media activity, meaning that claims against them as a private individual are not valid here.

Keres' counter response to this was to request documentation showing that Tamm had been obliged to write the article in question and to submit it to ERR for consideration of publication, while Keres also requested Tamm's current job description.

This was not forthcoming, however; Kaldoja responded that Tamm's duties stem largely from the Penal Code, the Prosecutor's Office Act, the Prosecutor's Office Statute, the Public Service Act, and the Constitution.

"If you have familiarized yourself with the aforementioned legislation, you will likely have discovered that prosecutors do not have a job description as such, so it is not viable to send that to you either. However, the division of the work of prosecutors within the institution is confirmed in the work division plan," Kaldoja wrote, enclosing said work division plan, as it pertains to the Prosecutor's Office, Southern District.

Pruunsild claimed that the ISS raid which led to his phone and computer being seized and which accompanied his being declared a suspect was an effort to damage his reputation.

Priit Humal (left) and Parvel Pruunsild. Source: Ken Mürk/ERR; Tairo Lutter/POSTIMEES

The investigation relates to the sale of a former exhibitions hall which had been owned by the Tartu-based Estonian National Museum (ERM) to the Sakala university fraternity (NGO Korp! Sakala), to which Pruunsild belongs.

Sakala recently bought a property at Kuperjanovi 9, from the state real estate agency RKAS, at a price-tag of €1.2 million.

The ISS suspects Pruunsild of having put pressure on Humal, who resigned as deputy mayor at the end of May, to convince the City of Tartu to forgo its pre-emptive purchase right on the Kuperjanovi property, to the benefit of Sakala.

The ISS criminal suspicion concerns procedural restrictions violations.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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