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Ansip whitewashes party financing scandal, blames whistleblower instead

European Commission Vice-President for the Digital Single Market Andrus Ansip
European Commission Vice-President for the Digital Single Market Andrus Ansip Source: (AFP/Scanpix)

Former prime minister and long-time Reform Party chairman Andrus Ansip, now the EU's commissioner for the digital single market, has accused former Reform member and present-day Social Democrat Silver Meikar of having taken money for himself that was supposed to go to the party as a personal donation. Ansip also gave Reform's 2012 financing scandal a fresh coat of white paint.

Meikar in 2012 admitted to funneling money into the party's coffers illegally. He stated that he had received cash from senior party members and was instructed to give the same amount to the party as a personal donation.

He also claimed that dozens of party members had done the same. None of these people had profited personally, but simply handed on the money they received. That way, cash of unspecified origin was laundered and received by the party as legal private donations.

Reform Party heavyweight and former Minister of Economic Affairs Kristen Michal had approached him in the matter, Meikar said. Michal had also played a role in asking party members to make these donations.

The list of suspects questioned by the prosecutor in the case reads like a who-is-who of the Reform party's upper echelons, and beyond Michal also included former minister Laine Randjärv, later Prime Minister Taavi Rõivas, and Kalle Palling, who became chairman of the Riigikogu's European Union Affairs Committee during Rõivas' time in office.

While back in 2012 as well as many times since Ansip denied any knowledge of money being funneled into the party this way, in an interview with business paper Äripäev (link in Estonian) he recently said that this was common practice at the time: if somebody wanted to donate and didn't want their name up on a list somewhere, then someone else would make the donation for them.

Ansip generalized and hinted at similar practices in other parties that today wouldn't be seen as quite appropriate. In Meikar's case, there had been a gap between the amount of money given to him, and the amount he passed on to the party, Ansip said.

Meikar in response pointed out that Ansip's statements followed the well-known modus operandi of the Reform Party of turning an issue on its head and running a counterattack, just like they had done in 2012, when Meikar ended up getting booted out of the party and found himself publicly accused by high-ranking Reform Party members.

Back then, of the 60 witnesses called in by prosecutors in the now-dismissed criminal case, nearly all provided what prosecutors described as “specious" explanations about the origin of the money.

Loans from mothers-in-law, unexpected windfalls, home safes, proceeds from precious metals investments, all of these factored in the explanations, many of them more than once, according to prosecutors.

In the end, members' loyalty to the Reform Party made any further investigation nearly impossible, and the case was closed.

Ansip's casual conversion of what was investigated as a crime in 2012 into a perfectly normal and established way of donating to the party comes at a time when Kristen Michal, who by many was seen as the main culprit in the matter, is on the rise again as the main backer of designated party chairwoman, Kaja Kallas (Reform/ALDE).

Traded as Ansip's most likely successor already before Rõivas was made prime minister in 2014, and again after Rõivas' government fell in 2016, Michal missed out on the party's top position once for lack of popularity with the public, and once again in January last year, when party delegates gave his opponent in the race for the chairmanship, Hanno Pevkur, two thirds of the vote.

With Pevkur freshly sidelined, with his backing of the generally spotless MEP and daughter of party founder and honorary chairman Siim Kallas, and with Ansip now starting to clean up past-day scandals, Michal seems set for a more prominent position again.

Editor: Dario Cavegn

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