Publishing VEB documents not in public interest, says interior minister

EKRE leader and interior minister Mart Helme.
EKRE leader and interior minister Mart Helme. Source: ERR

Documents concerning the VEB fund case will not be disclosed, since doing so is not sufficiently in the public's interest, interior minister Mart Helme (EKRE) recently stated, according to ERR's online news in Estonian.

The question has carried over from the previous coalition government and relates to a bill, proposed by Jaanus Karilaid (Centre), aimed at restoring funds to five businesses and individuals, totaling €15 million, who had had assets at the former VEB Bank frozen, around the time of the restoration of Estonian independence in the early 1990s.

The matter briefly split the previous coalition earlier in the year, with Isamaa, and the Social Democratic Party (SDE) opposing the bill. Isamaa is in the current coalition, SDE is not.

"Given that this is a matter of public interest, I, as Minister of the Interior, support the disclosure of the relevant VEB Fund documents held by the security authorities," Helme wrote to Karilaid, head of the Riigikogu's committee on legal affairs.

"However, it is important to understand that said public interest in disclosing information is not sufficient. The disclosure of any documents must take into account the legitimate interest of the officials and testimonies they contain in not disclosing their identity," Helme continued in his letter.

Helme also pointed out in the letter classified material held by the Internal Security Services (ISS) could only be declassified by the ISS Director General ahead of the expiry of the classification period, in proportion to the degree it does not endanger the security of the persons mentioned in the information or involved in the gathering of such information.

The bill proposed by Karilaid aimed at restoring funds to those concerned led to then-SDE leader Jevgeni Ossinovski saying in February that the issue should be shelved till after the March election. Ossinovski added that he felt Mr Karilaid was using the for political gain and in contravention of an agreement to wait until after the election.

Ultimately, Prime Minister and Centre leader Jüri Ratas said at the time that the XIII Riigikogu would not adopt the bill, deferring it to the XIV (current) Riigikogu.

The Riigikogu is in recess until September in any case.

The collapse of VEB, and dealings it engaged in at the time Estonia became independent in the early 1990s, particularly a request from the Bank of Estonia that VEB pay out $32.2 million to a company called TSL International, a firm which was subsequently dissolved, has also been an issue which has dogged Siim Kallas' political career from time to time. Kallas was head of the Bank of Estonia at the time of the VEB collapse. He was elected XIV Riigikogu vice-president after the March elections.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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