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Accusations of preferential treatment against Tallinn department

Director of Tallinn's city planning department, Anu Hallik-Jürgenstein.
Director of Tallinn's city planning department, Anu Hallik-Jürgenstein. Source: (ERR)

The Estonian Heritage Protection Society (Muinsuskaitse Selts) is accusing Tallinn’s city planning department of acting in the interest of particular real estate developers. An example is the case of the department’s director, whose husband is one of the developers in question.

Connections to the real estate business include the husband of the department’s director Anu Hallik-Jürgenstein, Andres Liinsoo. Liinsoo is a developer that, according to a report by ETV’s investigative program Pealtnägija, gets preferential treatment by city officials.

Hallik-Jürgenstein told Pealtnägija that she had never pressured anyone or given orders to treat Liinsoo’s business differently. If anyone did feel under pressure, this was without reason, and those who did should perhaps try to get help, Hallik-Jürgenstein said.

In the six years that Hallik-Jürgenstein has been in charge of the city’s planning department, Liinsoo has carried out some 15 large-scale developments in Tallinn. Several former officials find that there is a hint of corruption, but won’t go on record out of fear of repercussions. According to them, Liinsoo, who is part of developer Novira’s management, is a frequent visitor at the planning department’s offices. Hallik-Jürgenstein commented that Liinsoo didn’t tell her when he was planning to stop by, and that she didn’t keep track of how often he stopped by either.

Liinsoo himself as well as the head of the city planning department’s construction division, Helvi Kork, see no sign of impropriety in Liinsoo’s treatment. “Absolutely all actions, events, and everything else is fair, open, and always 100 percent public. We are very well aware that anything touching on our relationship not only needs to be honest, but also look honest. And that’s how it is,” Liinsoo told Pealtnägija.

One of the former officials known to the program insists that Liinsoo is in the habit of letting the department’s ranking officials know whenever he needs things to be taken care of right away. Hallik-Jürgenstein denies ever having expedited anything because her husband would have needed her to.

Another officials confirmed to Pealtnägija in writing that there are cases where Liinsoo turns straight to the official dealing with a particular issue and uses his wife’s position to make sure his matter is given preference.

Hallik-Jürgenstein points out that her signature on a document concerning Liinsoo’s business did not mean preferential treatment, or even her close involvement in any official process. “If a letter with my signature gets sent to, say, the county governor, or somewhere in the Ministry of the Environment, then this certainly doesn’t mean any preferential treatment of Andres Liinsoo’s business, and at the same time doesn’t damage the business of his competitors either,” she insisted.

Hallik-Jürgenstein also points out that she recuses herself from ongoing proceedings whenever something comes up that is connected to her husband: Her practice was to “leave the room” in such a case, she said.

According to former city officials, this isn’t quite the case. A source known to Pealtnägija states that members of the committee deciding over projects were not entirely free in their actions. “I think that it’s made clear beforehand what decision is expected. It isn’t really thinkable that committee members would decide against Andres Liinsoo’s projects. There have certainly been cases where this was done, but looking at the decisions in question, there wouldn’t have been a chance to vote yes, as they didn’t comply with the law.”

A case of March 2015 concerned a project of a block of flats that also included office space, to be built in Küti and Vana-Kalamaja Street in one of Tallinn’s up-and-coming neighborhoods. Officials pointed out several issues, one of them being that the parking lot allocated too little space per car. According to Liinsoo, the matter of the parking lot had been discussed and solved with one of the department’s divisions, which, according to one of Pealtnägija’s sources, was not true. The city planning department then signed off on the project, demanding only that the parking spaces be clearly indicated—treatment that other developers would not have received. This, according to Pealtnägija’s sources, is a typical example of how the department handles Liinsoo’s business.

In the summer of the same year, the same committee signed off on the permit for an office building in Tartu Street that again allocated parking space below the standard, specifically smaller than usual garage floor space. Again, a former official confirms that employees of the department were pressured into the decision.

Though there is no specific act that could be identified that would have gone against the law, several former officials of Tallinn’s city planning department state that they were pressured into giving one real estate developer preferential treatment, and that the actions of the department are not fair and based on equal treatment.

Editor: Dario Cavegn

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