Businessman Paavo Pettai, former campaign master of the Center Party who was released from charges in exchange for his testimony in the case against former longtime Center Party chairman and suspended Tallinn mayor Edgar Savisaar, testified in Harju County Court on Thursday.
Pettai, who works at Midfield OÜ, said in his testimony that he took a loan from businessman Hillar Teder in order to pay for the costs of the Center Party's election campaign, also recalling how the party discussed tying the city's information campaigns to the party's election campaign.
He stated that he has known Savisaar since 1996 and has always been on good terms with him. He also affirmed that his cooperation with the Center Party had lasted for a long time, and that he had headed all of the party's election campaigns, 18 in total, until 2015. According to the businessman, his primary contact person was Savisaar.
Pettai recalled that in recent years, the financial state of the party had been very complicated. In 2010, for instance, the party's declared debt totaled 38 million kroons, or about €2.4 million. He said that he discussed the party's financial state with Savisaar and the party's former financial manager Kalev Kallo on several occasions. He added that the party often hadn't paid for the previous election campaign by the time it launched the next one. Savisaar and Kallo were the ones who obtained money for the party, he claimed. The party's campaigns were financed with loans, including, for instance, money loaned from Switzerland in 2011.
According to Pettai, Savisaar said in 2011 that the party was unable to secure funding from a Swiss fund, Arsai Investments, where money had been accumulated from fees for various lectures. Pettai said that he was given a check worth €470,000 and that the check could be used a a guarantee. He was thereafter sent by Savisaar to a bank in Luxembourg, where the check was cashed and the money transferred to his private bank account. He added that businessman Alexander Kofkin was also present and helped with the bank procedure as he spoke German.
The money was meant for the Center Party's election campaign, Pettai claimed. At the same time, the party had inherited a house and the party's then-secretary general Priit Toobal proposed that Pettai buy it. Pettai purchased the house for €250,000, and the money was used for an election campaign. The money that came from Switzerland was partially used for the election campaign, while some of it made up Pettai's profit and some of it was used to publish Savisaar's books.
Pettai also said that he entered into loan contracts with Retail Real Estate OÜ, a company connected to Hillar Teder, for €275,000 in late 2014 and early 2015. According to Pettai, he told Teder prior to entering into the contract that the money would be used by the Center Party, and the businessman was fine with that.
Pettai said that on Dec. 2, 2014, he concluded letters of guarantee with the Center Party, as the party's debt was growing large. The letters of guarantee were issued on Toobal's proposal in the total amount of €730,000 and signed by Pettai and Toobal. He said Toobal promised to bring up the issue with the party's leadership.
Pettai also recalled that he helped hte Centrist Tallinn city government with the city's information campaigns, meeting often with Savisaar as well as other city officials. The final decision was made by Savisaar, he claimed, including on who would be featured on the public billboards advertising the party's members ahead of the elections. According to Pettai, the costs of the election campaign were covered from the city budget.
Pettai is one of the primary witnesses of the Office of the Prosecutor General, who was released from charges in exchange for his significant testimony.
Aadu Luberg, the defense lawyer of one of the accused, Hillar Teder, already said that Pettai's statements should be regarded with caution, claiming that Pettai might say whatever necessary to be released from charges by the prosecutor's office.
Charges against Savisaar
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.
Harju County Court on Aug. 9 separated materials pertaining to Reiljan from the criminal case in order to pursue a plea deal with the businessman.
Editor: Aili Vahtla