Former Savisaar corruption co-defendant not to stand as witness

Attempts to call Villu Reiljan, pictured here at the Harju County Court at the beginning of the long-running corruption trial in 2017, aas witness in the case of another co-defendant, have failed.
Attempts to call Villu Reiljan, pictured here at the Harju County Court at the beginning of the long-running corruption trial in 2017, aas witness in the case of another co-defendant, have failed. Source: Siim Lõvi/ERR

Attempts to call an additional witness in an ongoing, complex and somewhat chameleon-like corruption trial involving former Tallinn mayor Edgar Savisaar, a number of co-defendants, and the Centre Party itself, have been abandoned. The witness called was in fact himself a co-defendant in the trial, and the rationale was to cast doubt on his own trustworthiness rather than testifying on that of another.

One of those who had faced trial is businessman Vello Kunman. Kunman's defense lawyer, Paul Keres, had hoped to call Villu Reiljan as a witness, BNS reports.

Reiljan, a former environment minister, had himself pleaded guilty to related charges, hived off from the bulk of the case by the courts, with a plea bargain seeing him required to pay the Estonian state a little over €33,000.

Keres said that he wanted to prove in court Reiljan's attendance at a Christmas party in December 2014, in order to cast doubt statements given by Reiljan, who had been accused of arranging kickbacks to Savisaar, to the courts. The party in question was allegedly the venue of one such arrangement.

"I wish to prove that also in attendance at the Dec. 15, 2014 Christmas party was Villu Reiljan, who also consumed alcohol [at the party], whereas Reiljan himself has previously claimed that he did not attend any such parties," Keres said in June this year, BNS reports.

Vello Kunman. Source: Ken Mürk/ERR

"The question lies in the veracity of statements given by Villu Reiljan, as well as the condition in which he arrived, in order to meet Edgar Savisaar. This is important evidence," Keres continued. Kunman himself says that he does not know Edgar Savisaar and has never been in communication with him, according to BNS.

Keres had also initially wanted to question Taive Nõmmik, who worked at Silikaat Grupp, a company connected with the defendants. Nõmmik herself was involved in organization the 2014 Christmas party, and other Silikaat company events.

Other co-defendants

Kalev Kallo, former Tallinn city council chair, accused of aiding the giving and accepting of a bribe, was a co-defendant, along with former Tallinn city official Priit Kutser, on trial for aiding and abetting embezzlement, whose proceedings were concluded for reasons of expediency, and businessman Hillar Teder, who admitted to illicit donations to Centre in June, as part of a plea bargain which saw the case against him dropped, as directed by the prosecutor's office. Teder was fined €200,000, payable to state coffers.

Other co-defendants are construction magnate Aivar Tuulberg, Alexander Kofkin, and Kunman himself.

The Centre Party also expressed a desire to enter a plea bargain, with their part of the case separated from the remainder in June.

Hearings in the trial are set to resume on Aug. 29, BNS reports.

Reiljan-Kunman-Savisaar nexus

Edgar Savisaar himself, a co-founder of Centre and a former Tallinn mayor, had been involved in an on-off corruption case through 2017-2018, at all three tiers in the Estonian court system. Hearings were often suspended due to Savisaar's health issues, with the decision to halt the case against him at the lowest tier in the Estonian legal system being upheld by the highest (ie. the County Court was overruled by the Circuit Court, which in turn was overruled by the Supreme Court).

The aspect of the case involving Kunman concerns allegations that Veljo Reinmann had gone to Savisaar, possibly at the 2014 party, offering him a kickback in order to smooth over disagreement surrounding construction at a property belonging to Kunman's daughter, on Sihi Street I nthe Järve district of Tallinn.

Centre Party now

In July, Centre faced fines as much as quarter of a million euros, related both to the corruption case(s) as well as an alleged illegal donation from businessman Paavo Pettai, plus earlier potentially illicit donations during the Savisaar era.

However, Centre struck a deal with the prosecutor's office soon after, which suspends the fines on the condition that the party commits no further infringements in future.

The party had reported debts of around €400,000 late last year, around half the figure it had been prior to selling its former headquarters building on Toompea (party headquarters are now on Narva Highway).

The party received just over half a million euros in the second quarter of 2019, it is reported, primarily from the state subsidies which political parties in Estonia receive in proportion to their size and representation at the Riigikogu.

Editor: Andrew Whyte

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