The trial against former Center Party chairman and suspended Tallinn mayor Edgar Savisaar continued this week. Beyond several important statements, the Harju county court handed down the first sentence in the case, against former government minister Villu Reiljan.
Savisaar’s ex-wife, Vilja Toomast, was called up by the court on Wednesday, but made use of her constitutional right not to testify against her former husband and father of their child. The prosecutor wanted Toomast questioned regarding payments she received at the time of their divorce.
Austrian fund manager testifies
Israil Gendlin, a fund manager involved in the moving of Savisaar’s money, testified via a video link from Austria. Gendlin said he couldn’t remember much about the transactions, but after repeated questions from the prosecutor said that the money that moved through a fund under his control, Algel Familienstiftung, in 2007 was meant to support Savisaar’s literary activity.
Gendlin was a member of the fund’s management board and also working as a capital manager. He said that the fund was created approximately 25 to 30 years ago, but added that it is no longer active. Asked who he received instructions from in 2007, he said that he didn’t remember exactly, and also didn’t remember anyone else involved with the fund at the time.
Asked about various transactions in the same year that involved both loans as well as an account with a bank in Zürich, Gendlin repeated that the purpose of the transaction was within his fund management tasks, and also repeatedly said that he had no recollection of the exact events in question.
Asked about the circumstances of transactions in the sum of €191,570 made to said Zürich account of the fund on Aug. 6 and 10 in 2007, Gendlin said that he couldn’t recall the dates or the transferred sums. Asked who had made the transfers, Gendlin repeated that he didn’t remember.
The most Gendlin would confirm was that there was a company called Arsai Investments Ltd., behind which had been Alexander Kofkin. The company was working on a business idea concerning “Savisaar’s publishing activity”, supporting his literary pursuits. The money that had arrived in the fund managed by him had been destined for this business. The project never became a reality, and in the end Gendlin had given up his involvement, he said.
Prosecutor: Savisaar received bribe through Austria and Switzerland
According to the investigators, a scheme with money laundering characteristics had been set up by Savisaar. He opened a bank account in Zürich in 1997 for Arsai Investments Ltd., itself based on the British Virgin Islands. Through Gendlin’s fund Kofkin then paid €191,570 into this account, with the word “Loan” given as the only additional explanation.
The prosecutor has announced that they have evidence to prove that this was in fact a bribe. Kofkin paid Savisaar the money in exchange for a fixed tender aimed at helping Kofkin’s OÜ Estkompexim set up fast food kiosks throughout Tallinn avoiding bureaucratic obstacles like planning restrictions and permits.
Savisaar is also accused of organizing the necessary building permits for another of Kofkin’s companies, Kong Invest, for the construction of buildings on the 29 Pikk St., 24 Lai St., and 33 Pikk St. properties in Tallinn’s old town. Kong Invest received the permits it wanted on the same day.
The list of favors continues, according to the prosecution. Savisaar also “simplified” the construction of the Meriton Hotel and initiated the necessary decisions for the city to lease three more commercial premises in the old town to Estkompexim for five years.
Former adviser says she had no contact with political advertisements
The trial returned to the issue of Savisaar’s misappropriation of city funds to support political campaigns of himself as well as the Center Party. Liina Oja, a former adviser of Savisaar, said that even though her duties in 2013 also included advising him on media issues, she had had no contact with the city’s information campaigns during that period.
Oja recalled that in 2013 she worked as Savisaar’s adviser. She mainly advised him on issues concerning the media. Asked about her involvement in the production of a video ad for the Tallinn Marathon that was later found to have been illegal political advertising, Oja said that though she had participated in meetings concerning the event itself, she hadn’t been involved.
Asked whether she also knew something about the production of the video or the circumstances in which it was broadcast, Oja said no. She also reaffirmed that she didn’t know anything about the advertising video for Tallinn’s Hiiu stadium, an information campaign regarding the renovation of kindergarten playgrounds, a campaign regarding services directed at the elderly, and a video calling on people to vote, all of which were found to have been illicit political advertisements.
Former minister Villu Reiljan found guilty of arranging bribe
The court also handed down its decision in the case against former government minister Villu Reiljan on Thursday. Reiljan, 64, was found guilty of arranging a bribe.
In exchange for a pecuniary punishment over €33,034.40 and leaving an earlier conditional prison sentence unenforced, Reiljan agreed to cooperate with the prosecutor. Reiljan had been accused of arranging a bribe from Vello Kunman to Savisaar. The latter had made a deal with the businessman to facilitate yet another construction permit, this time for a plot in Tallinn’s Nõmme district.
It was established that in December 2014, at a time not precisely known to the investigation, Villu Reiljan and Vello Kunman had agreed that Reiljan would communicate the promise of a bribe to Savisaar. Kunman was to give the Center Party €20,000 in exchange for a permit to continue construction work at the Sihi 108 plot in Nõmme despite code violatons.
Hearing of Swiss witness in trial postponed for legal reasons
Similar to the statement of Israil Gendlin, a video link had been planned to Switzerland for additional statements by a witness located there, but this was not possible due to what the Baltic News Service referred to as “legal nuances”. It will take place at a later point.
Apart from several other parties to the case, the court by now has heard statements by businessmen Paavo Pettai and Tarvo Teder as well as Center Party MP Siret Kotka-Repinski, acting mayor of Tallinn Taavi Aas (Center), former minister Ain Seppik, city secretary of Tallinn Toomas Sepp, and secretary general of the Center Party Mihhail Korb.
The court has also heard a number of witnesses from outside the immediate reach of the Center Party and its business, including several subordinates of businessman Alexander Kofkin, employees of Hillar Teder’s companies, and city officials.
Court won't close cases for reasons of expediency
Of the other defendants in the case, Reiljan and former Tallinn official Priit Kutser have given their testimonies. The latter hoped that his case would be closed for expediency, but the Office of the Prosecutor General did not agree with that.
The court has also heard records of audio surveillance carried out on the defendants as well as reviewed written evidence. The court said it does not agree to the application of some of the defendants to close their cases for reasons of expediency.
“Ending the proceedings under that motive would only be considered as a last resort, and the court believes that at present there is no reason to do so,” the court stated.
The court has also investigated written evidence about Savisaar’s financial affairs, disclosing that Savisaar was keen to deal in cash and allowed others to pay for his everyday domestic expenses.
During the court proceedings, Savisaar’s medical condition has been bad enough that he needed to be taken to hospital twice.
The Office of the Prosecutor General has brought charges against Savisaar for accepting bribes, money laundering, embezzlement, and accepting prohibited donations for the Center Party. The same charges have been lodged against Alexander Kofkin, Vello Kunman, Villu Reiljan, Hillar Teder, Kalev Kallo, Aivar Tuulberg, Priit Kutser, and the Center Party.
The trial will resume on Nov. 7.
Editor: Dario Cavegn
Source: BNS, ERR