Although former Minister of Education and Research Mailis Reps has reached plea bargain agreement with the Prosecutor's Office in relation to criminal charges – to wrap up the criminal case via expediency, the Ministry of Education and Research itself, ie. Reps' former employer, has not as yet agreed to do the same in respect of a civil action it has been pursuing.
The prosecutor's office, however, demands an agreement or solution to be found between the ministry and Reps, to wrap up this case also.
Reps has been charged with a crime consisting of seven different counts, three of which are related to alleged embezzlement and the rest to alleged fraud. In addition, the Ministry of Education and Research has filed a civil lawsuit against Reps to the tune of nearly €120,000, of which €70,000 relates to expenses on childcare services – Reps is the mother to seven children.
Reps gave an interview with ERR's Indrek Kiisler, which follows in its entirety.
Indrek Kiisler: Can we see the case against you drawing to a close, given that the question of expediency has risen on the agenda?
Mailis Reps: It is indeed the case that there was a change of state prosecutor and (such) a proposal from the new prosecutor. Expediency means that in terms of the length of the procedure and the optimal costs, it is not wise to proceed with these processes for a protracted period of time, so an agreement for termination like was viable. But the state prosecutor also held certain conditions for this; one of those conditions is the now infamous civil lawsuit filed by the Ministry of Education and Research.
There must be some kind of agreement or some kind of reasonable solution to this too. But unfortunately, throughout the whole month of September, we were unable to get any meeting with the Ministry of Education and Research. At the court hearing today (Tuesday – ed.), it was made highly clear through the ministry's lawyer, Marko Karjak, that there no interest in a meeting was to be forthcoming. I can't explain that.
My sincere hope is that this is not about politics. What the question is today, I cannot answer, and unfortunately I did not get an explanation about it at today's court hearing either.
Kiisler: With its civil action, the ministry is demanding €119,000, which it alleges you spent during your time as a minister. These are the ministry's funds. You do not agree with the ministry regarding the spending of this €119,000 though.
Reps: Well, let's put it this way that there is, for example, €70,000 [of the total] relating to compensation for the car for the entire time as minister. It is likely quite an interesting precedent if a minister would have to pay back the use of a vehicle after they are no longer a minister. This is quite strange.
As is the ministry being of the opinion that the former minister's political advisers are not required ministerial staff. I am quite convinced that all former politicians take the view that political advisers of a former minister's, different political party, are not necessary for them as the incoming minister.
A civil suit is very different from a criminal proceeding. In the latter case, the prosecutor's office had found that the damage caused to the state amounted to €6,500.
And essentially you are pleading guilty to that; that's part of the plea bargain?
Well, let's say there is such a word in essence: If I admit guilt, the condition of expediency is that you are not criminally guilty, but that you are ready to compensate society to a certain extent, and have apologized for any damage you caused under different conditions.
As for the €6,500 application, this includes, for example, a meeting of the top leadership of the Center Party, which was undoubtedly busy, there is no question about that. It has also gone through the court today. [This is about] compensating that aspect. These are not legal issues directly; they are more substantive matters.
However this is likely highly questionable, as I don't have any information on what the Ministry of Education and Research goal is in prolonging this case.
That meeting of the Center Party leadership – you're referring to the meal at the Mon Repos restaurant?
In other words, in fact, you are surely in a situation where the whole case may drag on for years.
Yes. If the Ministry of Education and Research, through its legal representative but, I sincerely hope, not by a political decision - by the minister's decision, finds that it is necessary to continue the court proceedings, then in addition to these almost 50 witnesses and court proceedings, we will also be talking about the ensuing years. So, most likely, we will be referring the taxpayer to at least two or three years-worth of costs, approximately.
Can you give me an idea of what sort of sum you have spent on your own defense?
Time will tell, but let's say that today the Ministry of Education and Research alone probably spent almost €50,000 to hire its not very shy lawyer. We are still talking about some very, very large sums, so if we are looking at another three years plus court costs, plus the cost of two prosecutors, then again we are talking about very, very large sums of money.
You have been quite elusive with the media. How has life been treating you, going from court to court?
Probably only those people who have been through this can understand. There are a lot of people who put their health on the line by being in court, and I can understand why. It is quite stressful and exhausting, and I must confess, very legalistic as well. The reason why the media has not commented on anything for such a long time is because there are often so many legal nuances involved, that it is always better and wiser to leave them for the disputations, within the court hearing.
But since the prosecutor's office has really made its offer, and of course I have nothing against it if I were able to continue to deal with my family life, I basically agree with that. But yes, as of today it has remained (stuck behind) the Ministry of Education and Research.
In principle, though, you are prepared to say that [the ministry's demand of] €119,000 is too much in your opinion, but some agreement with the Ministry of Education and Science involving a smaller amount, you will go along with.
If this civil suit were to be dismantled then we could sit down and talk realistically about those areas where the ministry sees the costs. Not that this has to be paid back – let's say the next politician thinks that the work of the previous politician had not been noteworthy.
But if we are referring to the legal content, then of course I am willing to sit down. Just as the criminal police did their job; they analyzed the documents for a very long time, over several months. All these materials are present. Naturally, we are prepared immediately to conclude a substantive agreement.
Expediency also means that you have not been criminally penalized. Does this also provide some kind of option for you to return to public politics?
This would grant me the opportunity to return to my professional career. As for politics – I can't say today that I have any, how to put it politely, interest in that matter. But it could mean the public sector; it could mean my academic work.
It can also mean work as a teacher. But I can only do all these things when I'm not on trial or I've not been criminally penalized. But for the time being, I'm definitely not looking for a job, as with two very small children, I'll definitely be on parental pay, for at least a year.
But then I would probably do either public sector or academic work. The work of a politician – I couldn't say anything about that today. I wouldn't venture, wouldn't venture (to say).
Are you a member of the Center Party at this point in time? Many of your co-laborers have been submitting applications to the commercial register to quit the Center Party.
No, I have not quit the political party, but yes, I am quite distant from politics now; I observe and follow that a lot of quite interesting developments have been taking place. I have no desire at the moment [to leave the Center Party], but time will tell. The political parties have adapted to one another quite a lot over the years – whereas once the Center Party and Isamaa were sworn enemies, today it seems to me that the Center Party and Isamaa are almost of a mind; that it is possible to change the world view in the space of a day.
Editor: Andrew Whyte, Marko Tooming
Source: ERR radio news, interviewer Indrek Kiisler.