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Lawyer: Mölder bribery allegations relate to Viljandi County hunting society

Aivar Pilv.
Aivar Pilv. Source: Ken Mürk/ERR

In addition to Riigikogu MP Tõnis Mölder, a member of the board of non-governmental organization MTÜ Kõo jahiselts, a hunting association in Viljandi County, is also under suspicion of bribery and the mediating of bribes, the defense lawyer for Mölder says.

As reported by ERR News Tõnis Mölder, a former environment minister, is the subject of criminal suspicions of involvement in bribery, issued by the Internal Security Service (ISS) following an investigation Thursday.

Sworn lawyer Aivar Pilv (pictured), acting for Mölder, said. "The suspicion now is of requesting a bribe via another person, while the alleged bribe has not been transferred to Mölder, based on the existing case evidence. Mölder has also confirmed himself that he has not received any bribe," Pilv said.

Pilv declined to mention the sums involved in the alleged bribe, which forms the crux of the Internal Security Service (ISS) suspicion. "Various figures are indicated in the suspicion with regard to the amount of the bribe, so therefore I will refrain from commenting on what the precise and correct amount is," Pilv went on.

Pilv added that: "I will also outline for additional comprehension that, since this is a case of a suspicion declared against three individuals, where in addition to the allegations against Mölder, suspicion has also been brought against the bribe mediator, that is, the individual who had allegedly pledged to transfer the bribe to Mölder."

Pilv added that: "Mölder had no contact with the alleged bribe payer, provider or individual agreeing to pay it. As a consequence, it is also unknown, and very difficult for Mölder to comment on, what kind of communication may have taken place between two individuals, one of whom he has never communicated with, met or talked about any topics which could be related to any alleged request of a bribe payment."

Pilv confirmed that the NGO in question is the Kõo hunting society (MTÜ Kõo jahiselts), active in Viljandi County, in Southern Estonia.

"According to the hypothesis set out in the suspicion, the offer to Mölder was made by a board member of the Kõo hunting society," Pilv said.

However, the lawyer cannot state who, according to the hypothesis of suspicion, mediated between the activities of that hunting association board member and the activities of Tõnis Mölder.

In outlining the course of the proceedings, Pilv said that on Thursday, about ten hours were spent on procedural actions, primarily relating to the search of various places and also the filing of suspicions, which continued well into the evening hours.

"This means it takes time to analyze the suspicion, get to know it, delve into the details in order to form a position on what kind of statements Tõnis Mölder would like to make regarding this alleged suspicion," Pilv continued.

"Everything depends, of course, on what the investigative bodies' views are now on the further proceedings," Pilv added.

He added that the evidence seized during the course of the search will certainly be investigated and various witnesses who might have knowledge about the circumstances will definitely be interviewed.

Pilv said cannot estimate how long the procedure will take overall.

"At this current procedural stage, even the ISS and the Prosecutor's Office are unlikely to be able to accurately assess that. Practice and experience in such matters would rather indicate that this time can be relatively indefinite, while it is certainly not possible to say right now that it will last two or three months; it could also last five, six or more months. This is unpredictable from my perspective."

Mölder was not detained for 48 hours, he noted.

"Procedural actions were carried out, first of all a search of the [Mölder] residence, which started immediately in the [Thursday] morning. Then his Riigikogu office was subject to a search. During the search of Mölder's office, the ISS considered it necessary to take away only one data carrier. The rest of the documents and other items there were not of interest to them from the point of view of the investigation," Pilv continued.

Equally, Pilv was unwilling to forecast any potential penalty Mölder might be subject to.

The ISS informed Riigikogu MP Tõnis Mölder, who sat with Isamaa having left the Center Party last autumn, of the suspicion pertaining to him on soliciting bribes, and conducted a search of his office at the Riigikogu.

Mölder preempted any announcements by himself announcing on Friday morning the filing of the suspicion, which the ISS, know in Estonia as Kapo, confirmed.

It is alleged in the suspicion that Mölder had requested a bribe in the course of the 2023 state budget allocation of money for regional investments, or "protection money" (Katuseraha) as it is known.

The case has also put the spotlight back on this practice, which has long been referred to in some quarters as a form of corruption.

In short, protection money sees MPs obtaining funding for regional projects of their choice, in practice churches have been quite frequent recipients for restoration work and the like, while facilities such as sports halls are another common destination.

Since this process takes in opposition MPs as well as coalition ones (Mölder then as now was in opposition during the 2023 state budget process, in the fall to early winter of 2022), the argument is that it essentially acts as a sweetener for voting in favor of the state budget for the following year, before year-end.

The picture is even more complicated on years when local elections are held, which also takes place in autumn, since the distribution of these "protection" funds could arguably influence voters in the recipient municipalities.

Mölder also announced Friday morning that he would be leaving Isamaa, following a meeting with that party's leader, Urmas Reinsalu.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte, Mari Peegel

Source: ERR radio news, reporter Indrek Kiisler.

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