Prime Minister Kaja Kallas (Reform) has said she will not be attending a Riigikogu joint select committee emergency session on Tuesday.
The head of government has been under pressure since revelations hit the media last week that her husband, Arvo Hallik, held a stake in a company which had continued to transport manufactured products to the Russian Federation long after the February 2022 invasion of Ukraine began in February 2022 and in fact down to the present.
Kallas had already declined to appear before the Riigikogu's State Budget Control Select Committee, and will now not appear at a joint sitting scheduled for tomorrow and involving that committee together with the Riigikogu's Anti-Corruption Select Committee.
The joint session has been called on an extra-ordinary basis; parliament is not due to reconvene after the summer recess until mid-summer.
Kallas said she would not appear before the committee, on the grounds that business activities relating to Russia do not affect the state budget of Estonia – that the committees in question are not relevant to the case.
The prime minister gave an interview Monday, inside Toompea Castle, seat of the Riigikogu, to ERR's Madis Hindre, which follows in its entirety.
Are you going to take part in the joint extraordinary session of the special committee on state budget control and the Riigikogu anti-corruption select committee, where the topic will be business activities in the Russian Federation, following the start of the war?
I have responded that while I am ready to take part in the work of relevant commissions, this matter is not related to the state budget in any way. So when the relevant committees invite me, I am always ready to give answers.
The prime minister holds press conferences every Thursday, at which I as prime minister answer all questions publicly, while I'm also about to re-start Riigikogu question time sessions, when, every Wednesday, I answer Riigikogu MPs' questions, for a period of two hours. So I'm hardly evading these questions.
This criticism that the president made, is it inappropriate, in your opinion?
No it isn't.
Photos from your visit to Metaprint (the company whose products were being transported to Russia by the firm in which the premier's husband held a 24.8 percent stake in – ed.) in January of last year have been published in the media. One photo showed you sitting at a table with on screen which stated that Metaprint also has a factory in St. Petersburg, Russia. Did that not provide you with an indication that your husband's company, which works with Metaprint, conducts trips to Russia?
The prime minister visits thousands or hundreds of companies during the year. Perhaps a thousand would be putting it too high, but into the hundreds of companies for sure. And at each of them they hold slideshow presentations where they talk about where and how they operate. Can I retain all of that in my memory? No I cannot. The visit you're referring to was during or just after the Covid pandemic, but before the current war. From what I recall from that visit it was stated that thanks to the fact that there were no extensive restrictions (Kallas was likely referring to Covid restrictions – ed.) Metaprint was able to produce more and sell more of its products, given other factories in Europe were closed.
Had this been after the war [started], this would have definitely stood out, but before the war it didn't stand out in that way.
What do you think will happen next in regard to this controversy? Will it recede into the background now? Or will it continue? How will this all affect your political career?
In my view it not in the interest of the opposition or the media for this to die down, so I think it will continue to go on. The opposition will definitely come out with a motion of no confidence, in which case I will appear before the Riigikogu to give an account. I will certainly appear before the relevant committees. So, this will definitely continue. What I can do now is restated that I condemn such actions with regard to Russia, as I have done in the past, and continue to do. What I cannot answer for is the actions of all the companies operating in Estonia.
You condemn such actions, yet you have stated that your husband has done nothing wrong.
I condemn any activity in or with Russia. And my husband has also demonstrated by his actions to date that he understands this too; selling his share in the company he has built up over the years (Stark Logistics – ed.), for a peppercorn sum (the figure Hallik would be getting was not mentioned in last week's reports that he was selling his stake in Stark Logistics – ed.). So I don't know what a clearer acceptance of taking responsibility could look like.
Editor: Andrew Whyte, Aleksander Krjukov