The recent controversy over presidential office funding took a new turn on Monday evening when Ministry of Finance Secretary General Merike Saks claimed that it had been President Alar Karis' close adviser, Toomas Sildam, who linked the presidential assent of several pieces of legislation with the allocation of additional funds to that presidential office – in other words a quid pro quo.
Saks said she took Sildam's offer, reportedly made during an informal chat on the sidelines of a social function, seriously, to the extent that she informed her political counterpart at the ministry, Mart Võrklaev (Reform).
Nonetheless, the incident was only made public, via a Postimees article last Friday, nearly two months after the conversation had taken place, on June 9.
Jaan Ginter, professor of criminal law at the University of Tartu, told ERR that Merike Saks should instead have immediately turned to the Internal Security Service (ISS) and that only disclosing the matter now does not leave a very good impression, in an interview with ERR which follows in its entirety.
Since the Ministry of Finance Secretary General Merike Saks says she considered her conversation with Toomas Sildam [on June 9] to have been such a serious matter that she informed Minister Mart Võrklaev about it, should he have approached the police immediately, in such a situation? After all, if a high-ranking public official is offered the trading of legislation for funding, surely this constitutes influence peddling?
Essentially, the fact that she told Minister Võrklaev something does not in and of itself mean that the secretary general took the conversation seriously. But right now it is clear from the secretary general's [subsequent] comments that she certainly considered the conversation with Toomas Sildam's as a serious offer of exchange. In such a case, it would have been quite natural that she would have approached Kapo (the Estonian acronym for the ISS – ed.) also.
Horse trading like this taking place would surely be a most unheard of issue between our government agencies. The fact that the topic of conversation only came up several months later, only after the president had presented his own skepticism about the [car] tax bill, really doesn't leave a good impression.
In cases of suspicions such as these, are you required in any case to contact the Police and Border Guard Board, and the ISS?
In order for the state to be taken seriously, serious suspicions must be directed at those institutions that have the means to get to the bottom of the truth. Currently, the plan is for the Riigikogu's State Budget Control Select Committee to deal with the matter. But they don't have the tools for that; those belong to the ISS.
Should Minister of Finance Mart Võrklaev himself have approached the ISS and the PPA, given Merike Saks had not?
Yes, if he were serious about it. Of course, it is also possible that they also discussed this after the fact, and then decided, 'oh ok that was a joke'. But then of course, it seems very silly now that it is being presented as a serious offer of horse trading.
What penalty could befall an official who had engaged in this type of alleged influence peddling?
I don't know the Penal Code off by heart, I believe somewhere around three years of deprivation of liberty would be the maximum. Since it would in this case certainly be a first-time event, we would be talking about a suspended sentence of deprivation of liberty. In reality, no one would serve prison time for this.
Editor: Andrew Whyte, Marko Tooming