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Kallas on Karis criticism: I reserve the right to respectfully disagree

The prime minister appearing at the Riigikogu anti-corruption select committee sitting of Monday, September 4, 2023.
The prime minister appearing at the Riigikogu anti-corruption select committee sitting of Monday, September 4, 2023. Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

Prime Minister Kaja Kallas said in an interview to ERR and Kuku Raadio that she respectfully disagrees with President Alar Karis who recently said he believes the premier should have resigned when the crisis first broke. Kallas added that she still doesn't understand what she is being accused of.

Kadri Põlendik (ERR): You visited with the president yesterday to discuss ways to overcome Riigikogu filibustering, while the subject matter of your husband's business activity also came up. What did the president tell you?

The president told me the same thing he said publicly. You've all read about it.

Timo Tarve (Kuku): He publicly said that he believes you should have resigned right away. Did he repeat those words to your face, and did it make you wonder?

Yes, he said the exact same thing he has said publicly, and which he has probably said before. We just had an election and prime ministers are appointed through parliamentary majority. Those same votes can remove the prime minister. That is the way of our Constitution. I will take the opportunity to follow the president's advice and respectfully disagree. I sincerely disagree as concerns me staying on as prime minister, I will continue for as long as our coalition partners and my party are behind me. So far, their messages have suggested they support me.

Põlendik: A member of the board of the [coalition] Social Democratic Party has now said you should resign. I'm talking about Peep Peterson.

Opinions differ. Peep Peterson is also not a member of the Riigikogu. Chairmen of the parties that make up the coalition have told me they stand behind me and will not join any no-confidence motion against me.

Tarve: The last time a president found that a prime minister should resign was 30 years ago. It was Lennart Meri. It constitutes considerable pressure. What might it be a sign of?

This pressure on all fronts makes for an interesting question indeed. I hope that what was revealed at the Riigikogu Security Agencies Monitoring Select Committee might cool it down somewhat. My husband and I have passed [ISS] security checks, which found that we are not vulnerable to blackmail, and that the allegations thrown up in the press are baseless. That is what we should proceed from. That is why we have investigative organs, to handle such matters and run backgrounds checks, which are as thorough as they deem necessary.

Põlendik: While we're on the subject of the committee, one thing that was not made clear was whether the Internal Security Service (ISS) warned you or even mentioned that your husband has a company that is involved in business in Russia the last time you were vetted for state secrets access?

They did not, because my husband does not have a business in Russia. They helped a business partner move goods between two of their factories.

Põlendik: The factory is in Russia.

The ISS has said nothing of the sort to me because there has been no illicit activity. It may be morally reprehensible, which has now become clear to everyone, including my husband who has sold his stake in the business. But it is not a violation of the law or prohibited in any way.

Põlendik: In other words, during your state secrets clearance process, the ISS did not talk to you about your husband's business activity?

They did not.

Tarve: Your communicative efforts in the crisis, which have really not been up to scratch, have been criticized over the last two weeks. You've been asked who advises you. We know today that while you probably have advisers, you do not listen to them. Why is that?

Wow... I listen to my advisers intently. Yet more accusations being thrown around. You know, I would love to sometimes switch places and see you put under the same kind of pressure I'm under every day, and see how well you communicate. Let us switch places and see what happens.

It's always possible to blame communication, while the matter that no one has been able to communicate to me is what exactly am I being accused of? So I would get to defend myself.

Tarve: Your moral compass is accused of being skewed so to speak.

But my moral compass is where it has always been. I was not aware of these activities. You've all seen my reaction on camera when I first found out about it (Kallas previously told Vikerraadio in an interview that she learned of the scandal on Monday, or two days before she first appeared on camera over it – ed.). Based on it, my husband immediately took steps, because it is morally reprehensible.

What else do you want from me after these steps have been taken? My moral compass and position have not changed in any way. They are just the same as the were before the scandal.

Tarve: The Riigikogu State Budget Control Select Committee immediately developed new questions after you had shared the loan contract with its members. The documents reveal nothing about transfer dates. Are you prepared to take the next step and reveal these dates (of when loan sums were transferred and returned – ed.)?

This does not concern the State Budget Control Select Committee in any way. That committee is not involved in this matter. (Kallas sent copies of the contracts to members of the Riigikogu Anti-Corruption Select Committee – ed.) But it is inconceivable that heads of the opposition parties will ever say they have all the answers and they're done with the whole thing. It is in their interests to keep the pot boiling.

To reveal my accounts – do they suspect I have not actually transferred the money or seen it returned? I have declared all of it, paid taxes on interest my husband paid me for it all to be above board. There is a limit somewhere. I can understand the curiosity, but to be able to defend myself, I need to understand what I'm being accused of, instead of surrendering everything so someone could see what's interesting. I would also like to see Mart Helme's bank statement, but it's none of my business. Everyone has the right to privacy.

Tarve: The Riigikogu is set to convene for its fall session next Monday to get to work on a number of key bills, including the draft budget. The opposition has vowed not to put up with it if you refuse to resign.

The opposition promised in spring to make life a living hell for the government during the entirety of its time in office. They have said in no uncertain terms that they are aiming for extraordinary elections and will do everything they can to obstruct the legitimately elected parliament and government's actions. This is exceptional in the history of Estonia, and it is difficult to compromise when the goals are so different. We have an ambitious plan for improving life in Estonia, while we are being told that they won't let us do anything. It is difficult to compromise there. It will be a very difficult autumn.

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Editor: Marcus Turovski

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