Saks: President adviser conversation was nothing worse than just awkward

Merike Saks.
Merike Saks. Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

Ministry of Finance Secretary General Merike Saks has rejected a claim that after a conversation in mid-June she had with President Alar Karis' internal affairs adviser Toomas Sildam, in which the latter allegedly stated that the presidential assent to legislation passed at the Riigikogu could be made contingent on the president's office receiving top-up funding for 2023, Saks should have approached the Internal Security Service (ISS) about the matter.

Saks (pictured) said the incident was merely an awkward one, though at the same time it was Saks who on Monday revealed that the hitherto unnamed member of the presidential office staff who raised the issue of the relationship between promulgating legislation and obtaining extra funding was in fact Sildam.

The conversation took place shortly before the Riigikogu went on its summer recess and at a time when the chamber had been subject to extensive filibustering by opposition MPs.

University of Tartu criminologist Professor Jaan Ginter told ERR Monday that Merike Saks should have turned to ISS immediately she became aware of the suspicions, while waiting until now, almost two months later, does not make a very good impression.

Saks said she did not do so because she didn't see any aspect of wrongdoing in the conversation, even as she found it awkward and uncomfortable.

Saks gave an interview to ERR on Tuesday, which follows in its entirety.

How do you react to Professor Ginter's statement that you should have gone to the ISS?

Professor Ginter has said that I considered Sildam's offer as a serious one. I don't think that statement is quite correct, however. If we read what I have said, it is that in the conversation with Sildam, he joined up the two topics in one conversation: The financial concerns president's office faces, and the granting of presidential assent to legislation; with reference to the financial concerns and also implying that if there were more funds available, he could get the office to work faster. I did not think that such a statement coming from Toomas was appropriate, and I was uncomfortable as a result. That was more or less the end of our conversation.

At the same time, you considered this incident serious enough to tell Finance Minister Mart Võrklaev about it.

The Minister of Finance is my boss, that is, my leader at the ministry. I spoke to the Minister of Finance for several reasons, because I was not even aware that the President's Office had made a budget request, so I needed to clarify what it was all about. This did not constitute an official request. During this course of this conversation, I also told him about the chat I had had with Toomas Sildam.

What was Võrklavev's reaction, as far as you can recall - did he suggest taking the matter anywhere?

Mr. Võrklaev has explained his reaction on several occasions, including at the session of the [Riigikogu] special committee that has just adjourned (as of Tuesday lunchtime – ed.). [Võrklaev said] that linking these topics together is not appropriate. Neither of us really considered contacting the ISS at that juncture. We didn't consider it at all, because both I and the finance minister considered the conversation that Sildam had had me to be embarrassing and inappropriate.

But did I think that Toomas Sildam was behaving in a criminal way – no [I did not]. At that point in time, I wasn't planning to rush off anywhere and write up some kind of statement.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte

Source: ERR

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