Following an eight-week break, the graft trial of suspended Tallinn mayor and former longtime Center Party chariman Edgar Savisaar continued in Harju County Court on Tuesday. The hearing will continue on Wednesday with the presentation of evidence in the case.
Tthe Office of the Prosecutor General on Tuesday published the summary of charges, stating that the charges have been proven. The defenders found that the charges were unfounded and that evidence did not support them.
All of the defendants in the case pleaded not guilty; only Villu Reiljan said that he agreed with "the reprimand" and is currently in talks with the Prosecutor's Office regarding a plea bargain.
The hearing will continue on Wednesday with the presentation of evidence. It is also possible that negotiations for terminating the procedure on the principle of opportunity will take place regarding defendant Priit Kutser and that plea bargain negotiations will take place for Reiljan, implying that both defendants will testify on Wednesday.
Defense lawyers request termination of case due to statute of limitations
Harju County Court will also decide in a few weeks whether the case should be closed due to the expiration of the limitation period.
Chief State Steven-Hristo Evestus said on Tuesday in response to the defense lawyers' request that two cases have been merged for the present case, one of which was launched in 2011. Evestus stressed that Alexander Kofkin was not a suspect in the money laundering case dating back to 2011 and that the start of the countdown for the limitation period in Kofkin's case should be 2015.
"Regarding Kofkin in the context of the money-laundering case, his name was indeed in the proceeding documents, however he was not referred to as a suspect," Evestus stressed, adding that there was no reason to discuss the limitation period expiring in the businessman's case.
Regarding Savisaar's money laundering-related charges, Evestus said that the limitation period for a money laundering case cannot be short and that, according to the Penal Code, the limitation period for such a case is 10 years. He also said that international cooperation takes time, and added that he did not agree with the defense lawyer's claim that the job of law enforcement authorities was easy.
According to Evestus, the case concerning bribery was initiated in 2014, and this also provided content for the money laundering case. "We also can't not consider the fact that in 2015, the case was temporarily put on hold," he said, referring to Savisaar's poor health during that year.
Savisaar and Kofkin's defense lawyers Oliver Nääs and Aivar Pilv fund that the limitation period for the case against their clients had passed and thus the case should be closed.
Nääs highlighted the legal assistance request submitted to Swiss authorities as well as Savisaar's authorization given to a Swiss law office in which the former party chairman applied for the legal assistance request to be contested. "This concerns the money laundering charge moved against Savisaar," Nääs specified.
The defense lawyer pointed out that on Feb. 3, 2011, the Office of the Prosecutor General sent a legal assistance request to Switzerland and that the allegations mentioned in that request were identical to those moved against Savisaar in the framework of the present case. "Savisaar was notified of the launch of the investigation in the second half of 2011," Nääs said, adding that the limitation period thus began to run in the second half of 2011.
"This case has been processed for more than six years by now," Nääs claimed. "The case has concerned Savisaar for five and a half years, and this is too long of a time for carrying out a pretrial investigation."
He also cited periods of the pretrial investigation during which no procedural acts were carried out for months. "I'm certain that the proceeding could have been carried out more efficiently and the case could have been sent to court in 2013 already," said Nääs, adding that he did not see that the case could be solved quickly, within a year or two, and it should therefore be closed.
Pilv added that he agreed with Nääs and that the limitation period had passed in Kofkin's case as well. According to Pilv, his client did not agree with the prosecutors' claim that as Kofkin had not been charged with money laundering, but rather repeatedly giving bribes, the episodes of which occurred later, that the limitation period had not yet expired.
The defense lawyer added that the limitation period begins counting down when an individual being investigated senses their connection to a proceeding, and Kofkin's name began appearing in the proceeding launched in 2011 already.
Previous hearing cut short due to Savisaar's health
The most recent hearing, which took place on June 14, was canceled not long after it had begun, as the court had to call an ambulance for Savisaar, 67, due to high blood pressure; Savisaar thereafter spent multiple days in the hospital.
Savisaar, who was in early June declared fit to stand trial by an expert committee which conducted a court-ordered medical examination, has stressed in interviews and on social media that if pathologists and cardiologists have deemed him medically fit to tand trial, then he must also run in this fall's local elections and renew his mandate.
Monika Väli, head of the four-member expert committee at the Estonian Forensic Science Institute which conducted the court-ordered medical examination of the defendant, said that Savisaar may be questioned for 45 minutes to one hour at a time, after which a break of about half an hour would be needed. She noted that he could be questioned for up to an hour and a half, should Savisaar himself agree to it.
Savisaar charged in connection to four cases of bribery
The Office of the Prosecutor General has charged Savisaar in using Tallinn city budgetary funds for the benefit of the Center Party and himself, i.e. embezzlement on a large-scale basis, by an official and by a group, as well as in four cases of accepting bribes, money laundering and the acceptance of prohibited large-scale donations to the Center Party. The Center Party has also been charged as a legal entity.
Charged with bribing Savisaar are businessmen Aivar Tuulberg, Alexander Kofkin, Hillar Teder and Vello Kunman. Tallinn City Council chairman Kalev Kallo has been charged with assisting in the making and accepting of bribes; former politician Villu Reiljan is charged with arranging a bribe of Savisaar. Põhja-Tallinn deputy city district elder Priit Kutser has also had to stand trial.
The Prosecutor General terminated criminal proceedings concerning seven officials due to a lack of basis, as the officials' actions were not committed with the intention of appropriating city property for the party or individuals associated with it.
Editor: Aili Vahtla
Source: BNS, ERR