Former PPA chief's defense lawyers want criminal proceedings dropped

Elmar Vaher and Eerik Heldna.
Elmar Vaher and Eerik Heldna. Source: Siim Lõvi/Priit Mürk/ERR

After examining the evidence collected by the prosecutor's office against former Estonian Police and Border Guard Board (PPA) Elmar Vaher chief and Eerik Heldna, defense lawyer Margus Kurm says his belief that the accused did not commit fraud has only increased. Speaking to ERR radio, Kurm added that, in his view the prosecutor's office ought to end the criminal proceedings against his clients.

Last week, the prosecutor's office announced that following a thorough investigation, the evidence gathered against Heldna, Vaher and Aivar Alavere lent support to the initial suspicions that the accused had committed fraud and, in the case of the letter, aiding fraud.

According to the prosecutor's office, based on calculations by the Estonian Social Insurance Board, it has been established that the crime could may have caused hypothetical losses of more than €1.6 million to the state.

The prosecutor's office have now given the defendants' lawyers access to the case file. In turn, the defense lawyers are also able to submit requests to the prosecution.

According to Kurm, having studied the evidence, he is more convinced than before that neither Vaher nor Heldna committed fraud. He will therefore will submit a request to the prosecutor's office to terminate the criminal proceedings against his clients.

"The dossier is thick, 16 volumes in total. As was I reading the file, my belief that Vaher and Heldna had not committed fraud only increased. The material also makes it clear beyond dispute, that the question of Heldna's appointment and rotation has been analyzed and discussed repeatedly in different institutions. In none of those institutions has the analysis led to the conclusion that the personnel decisions taken in relation to Mr. Heldna were in any way illegal. The order to appoint Mr. Heldna is still in force. In light of this, it is absurd to claim that Heldna has deliberately misrepresented his seniority," Kurm said.

The investigation has now been ongoing for more than six months. On March 21, officers of the Internal Security Service (ISS or Kapo) filed suspicions of fraud against Eerik Heldna, head of the customs department at the Estonian Tax and Customs Board (MTA).

It was alleged that Heldna, who was working on rotation with the Estonian Defense Forces (EDF) at the time, at his behest and with the connivance of Vaher, had been ostensibly drafted into service with the PPA, on April 2019.

Kurm has previously stated that no laws or norms were violated by Heldna's rotation, and his view remains unchanged.

"I am still convinced, perhaps even more so, that the decisions made concerning Heldna's service have been lawful," Kurm said.

The pre-trial investigation was conducted by the Kapo, which Kurm has been critical of in the past in relation to the Heldna case.

In May, Kurm told ERR that he was aware of the dispute between Heldna and the Kapo, which he believed to be the main reason for the initiation of criminal proceedings. Therefore, the Kapo could not be considered an impartial party in the case.

At the moment however, Kurm is not accusing the Kapo of bias.

"The Kapo has done its job and completed its investigation. Therefore, there is no longer any point in discussing whether the Kapo is objective or not. The matter ought to be discussed further with the prosecutor's office," Kurm said.

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Editor: Michael Cole

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