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Kallas has used private jet 28 times in three years

Rishi Sunak visited Estonia on a one-day visit on December 19, 2022.
Rishi Sunak visited Estonia on a one-day visit on December 19, 2022. Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

Over the past three years, Prime Minister Kaja Kallas (Reform) has used a private jet 28 times at a total cost of €889,895, about half of which was reimbursed by the European Union.

Helen Uldrich, the government's media adviser, told ERR that the Estonian state has paid a total of €467,706 and the European Union €422,189 for charter flights over three years.

"On 15 occasions, there have been charter flights to meetings of the Council of the European Union, the cost of which is largely borne by the Council, due to the unpredictable timing and duration of the meetings. In about three years, a total of 13 charter flights have been necessary on other occasions, most of them due to exceptional foreign policy and security situations," Uldrich said.

Uldrich noted that since January 26, 2021 until now, the prime minister has had 66 foreign visits.

She said that, as a general rule, the prime minister's delegation has used airplanes to reach its destination and that scheduled flights are always the first preference.

"The prime minister mostly travels economy class," Uldrich said.

On a couple of occasions, the prime minister has also used a boat to travel to Finland.

Uldrich gave the example that in June last year, the prime minister had to travel for about 30 hours from Tallinn to London for meetings with the British prime minister, foreign secretary and defense minister, from there to Vilnius for a meeting with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and the Latvian and Lithuanian prime ministers, and back to Tallinn.

On two occasions, she said, a special flight had to be booked because a scheduled flight was cancelled at the last minute, and on one occasion because the entire airspace of the destination country was closed to scheduled flights due to the summit and a charter flight was the only way to get there.

"Only on rare occasions, charter flights are used to bring the prime minister to meetings of important heads of state or government to destinations with which Estonia does not have air connections or to which scheduled flights cannot reach in time or at a reasonable cost," the media adviser explained.

"Since the beginning of Russia's full-scale war in Ukraine, the Estonian prime minister has had an extraordinary amount of top-level international interaction with other heads of state and government; there have been numerous meetings to coordinate joint decisions; there has been an exceptionally high level of interest in our positions; and it has been just as necessary to present our foreign and defense policy positions ourselves," she said.

Uldrich said that the meetings with the leaders of the major powers and allies have been more frequent than ever, and the nature of their organization has changed.

"In emergency and security situations, visits and meetings were not planned well in advance. Since February 2022, calls for visits have been made at short notice, around a week in advance, often with no appointment times until the last minute, and it is not possible to schedule these trips according to scheduled flights," Uldrich said.

"For example, in the past two years, the Estonian prime minister has met outside Estonia, either bilaterally or in a small circle, with French President Emmanuel Macron in Paris on five occasions and once in Munich, with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz on four occasions, and with British prime ministers on three occasions," she said.

Uldrich said that flight fares have increased significantly since the pandemic period, which is why costs vary from year to year. "Also, there were not as many foreign visits during the peak of the pandemic in 2019 and 2020 as in the last two years. Following the pandemic, the number of flights recovered slowly and there were often no connections from Tallinn that were suitable in terms of their timing," she said.

The Police and Border Guard Board has ensured safe and fast transport by helicopter for Prime Minister Kaja Kallas' delegation on two occasions during her term of office – on August 8 and October 10, 2022, Uldrich said.

"In the first case, the prime minister flew to Narva for a visit. As the invitation to Narva was at short notice, the helicopter was necessary to save time so that the primeminister could also carry out all her other duties for the day. On October 10, the prime minister used the PPA helicopter to visit Narva together with the President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen, whose agenda included a series of meetings in Tallinn," Uldrich said.

She said that PPA helicopters will only be used in exceptional cases and only if search and rescue capabilities are guaranteed at the same time. The PPA has a total of three helicopters.

Uldrich said that the Chancellery of the Riigikogu has selected travel agencies through a call for tenders. They are used to procure airline tickets and, if necessary, charter flights.

A scandal erupted in Latvia last week over the foreign trips of former prime minister and current foreign minister Krišjanis Karinš. As head of government, Karinš and his accompanying delegation used private planes to reach destination or return home on 36 occasions, costing a total of €1.3 million from both the Latvian and EU budgets. Both the Latvian National Audit Office and the Prosecutor's Office are investigating the matter.

Latvia's President Edgars Rinkevičs also found that flying Karinš in private planes might be a disproportionate and economically unjustifiable activity.

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Editor: Aleksander Krjukov, Kristina Kersa

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