The first-tier Harju County Court has acquitted Eveli Vavrenjuk, Olev Kuklase, Sirje Tael, Mark Vavrenjuk, Mirko Vavrenjuk and law firm Advikaadibüro Kuklase & Partnerid of all the charges brought against them, charges which referred to bribery and other alleged corruption.
The state must now compensate the above for over €200,000 in legal aid costs.
Eveli Vavrenjuk stood charged with bribe-taking; Tael, Kuklase and OÜ Advokaadibüro Kuklase & Partnerid of bribe-giving. According to the charge sheet, in 2008-2012, Evelin Vavrenjuk had entered into two separate illegal agreements as a judge of the Tartu County Court: one with a friend, bankruptcy trustee Sirje Tael, and the other with Olev Kuklase, the sole shareholder and board member at OÜ Advokaadibüro Kuklase & Partnerid, also a close friend.
The charge sheet stated that over the years, Vavrejuk had gotten Tael and Kuklase involved in the bankruptcy and reorganization proceedings she led, thus ensuring them the possibility of receiving regular remuneration.
In return, Kuklase allegedly provided free legal services to Vavrenjuk, while Tael allegedly facilitated Vavrenjuk and her family members with pecuniary benefits.
With regard to the bribery charges, the court found no evidence of a bribery agreement between Vavrenjuk and Kuklase or Vavrenjuk and Tael, however.
Evelin Vavrenjuk, Mark Vavrenjuk and Mirko Vavrenjuk were all charged with repeatedly making knowingly false statements regarding the costs of the proceedings in the lists concerning the same, in three civil cases, i.e. as the defendant's representatives, with the aim of obtaining a property order from the other side of the disputes in question, for their own benefit.
According to the court, however, it has not been proven that the Vavrenjuks provided incorrect information regarding the content, volume and provider of the legal aid service and the price the same as listed in the procedural costs submitted to the court.
Consequently, it was not proven that they had conspired to an attempt to defraud, to forge a document or to utilize a forged document.
Vavrenjuk was also charged with illegally publishing a specific type of personal data, for personal gain. In this aspect, the court found that Vavrenjuk did forward a document containing specific types of personal data of another person to her husband's e-mail, but that this was not done in self-interest.
Sirje Tael was charged with performing work duties during a period of leave from work and thus of knowingly creating an incorrect perception to the Estonian Health Insurance Fund (Haigekassa) of the actual circumstances and of receiving financial benefits to the amount of €4,943.99.
From the text in the indictment and the evidence presented, it was not, the court found, clear what specific tasks Sirje Tael had performed as a bankruptcy trustee and as a bailiff while she was on (disability) leave, nor was there any evidence that found that she had received salary income or any other income subject to social tax, over that time period. As a result, the court found that her guilt in this aspect has not been proven.
The court the ruled that the Republic of Estonia must compensate the legal costs incurred by Eveli Vavrenjuk to the sum of €51,096.92, the legal costs of OÜ Advokaadibüro Kuklase & Partnerid to the amount of €15,465, the legal costs incurred by Sirje Tael to the tune of €48,300, the legal costs incurred by Olev Kuklase to the amount of €80,968.04, legal costs for Mark Vavrenjuk of €6387.12 and Mirko Vavrenjuk's legal expenses, totaling €6387.12. Also, seized funds belonging to Eveli Vavrenjuk totaling €2325.88 must be released to her.
The court overruled OÜ Advokaadibüro Kuklase & Partnerid, Olev Kuklas and Eveli Vavrenjuk's requests for compensation for the damage caused regarding the criminal proceedings, but partly satisfy Mark Vavrenjuk's request for compensation for the damages relating to the criminal investigation, and to compensate him here to a total of €187.
The Harju County Court decision has not yet entered into force, and can be challenged at the second-tier district court within 30 days from the day when the full text of the decision becomes available electronically.
State prosecutor: Defendants have abused the responsibility that comes with their position
Meanwhile state prosecutor Alar Lehesmets commented that judges, sworn advocates and bankruptcy trustees are subject to higher ethical requirements, so that the public can place trust them as participants in administering justice and ensuring the functioning of the rule of law. "Abuse of official status damages the reliability of justice and the order, and fair competition in the case of bankruptcy proceedings," Lehesmets said.
"The prosecution takes the view, based on evidence presented in court, that the defendants, in the course of disbursing their day-to-day duties, have abused the responsibility and trust that their official statuses bring, and to the extent that they have been charged with, for personal benefit. In order for the judicial system to be able to assess events where, according to the prosecution, a crime was committed by the judge, a lawyer and a bankruptcy trustee, we had to present the evidence in court, in order to obtain a judgment," he went on.
According to Lehesmets, the prosecutor's office had presented evidence in the court, which, according to the prosecutor's opinion, demonstrates that Eveli Vavrenjuk, as per the charge sheet, had included her close associates in the bankruptcy proceedings she led at the same time, and that she and her family members received preferable treatment as a result.
Lehesmets said: "We also presented evidence according to which the bankruptcy administrator Sirje Tael performed her work duties as according to the indictment, while receiving sickness benefits, and did not only do so from home, but went to take photos of the bankruptcy estate and delivered a notice of seizure of the property during the enforcement proceedings. In our opinion, the charges of fraud against Eveli, Mark and Mirko Vavrenjuk was also proven as, according to the prosecutor's office, the evidence demonstrated that false information was presented to the court in order to compensate legal aid costs incurred in the civil proceedings."
"In evaluating the evidence, Harju County Court came to a position diametrically opposed to the charges. Since the court did not justify its decision in the courtroom, the prosecution does not know what its arguments for doing so were. We will be submitting an appeal notice to review the court's reasons, and after reviewing the court's arguments, we will decide the extent to which we will challenge the decision," he added.
Editor: Andrew Whyte, Aleksander Krjukov