I made a mistake in Vaher case, says finance minister

Finance minister Martin Helme (EKRE).
Finance minister Martin Helme (EKRE). Source: Siim Lõvi/ERR

Finance minister Martin Helme (EKRE) has apologized for acting unilaterally in criticisms of Police and Border Guard Board (PPA) chief Elmar Vaher, saying he should have consulted with Prime Minister Jüri Ratas (Centre) first. He also said that Vaher had misrepresented what was said at a short meeting on Thursday.

Helme was deputizing for his father, interior minister Mart Helme, while the latter was on vacation, when he rejected claims that Vaher had made concerning redundancies at the PPA. Vaher said that these could number around 150 people; Helme said that the PPA chief was using his employees as a "human shield".

On returning from vacation Thursday afternoon, Mart Helme called for Vaher to step down; a document was prepared at the interior ministry to that effect, digitally signed by the ministry's secretary general, without the latter actually signing it himself.

The dispute hearkens back to a 2003 case in which then finance minister Tõnis Palts (Isamaa – then called IRL) unilaterally opened disciplinary proceedings against then tax board director Aivar Sõerd. Sõerd was subsequently fired, but a precedent was later found by the Riigikogu to the effect that ministers cannot unilaterally dismiss or discipline heads of key state bodies.

References were also made to the November booking of Hannes Rumm, then a foreign policy adviser to former foreign minister Sven Mikser (SDE) for driving while intoxicated. Rumm subsequently left the ministry, but had been granted a plea bargain and reduced sentence over the incident, which Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE) members, including MEP Jaak Madison, have implied was a let-off on the part of Vaher's PPA.

"Certainly, against the backdrop of all the political panic that has been occurring, I have to admit that I made the mistake of interfering so quickly and forcefully in the affairs of another ministry," Helme wrote on his social media account Thursday evening.

"I had a discussion with my party's interior minister, but not with the prime minister. Admittedly, this was not the correct way of doing things; I understand Jüri's resentment and apologize to him. Learning is a life-long process," he continued.

Helme added that Elmar Vaher had misrepresented what he, Helme, had said in a meeting between the two men Thursday.

"It is true that as understudy for the interior minister, I met Mr Vaher today. I said he couldn't continue [in his post]. I suggested that he quit the office, explaining that the interior minister ... had completely lost confidence in him," Helme continued in his post, referring to remarks made by Vaher at a press conference.

"Our meeting was not really a long one, but Elmar Vaher misrepresented it. First of all, I never said that his resignation request was due to the Rumm case. I asked him what he knew about it and if he was up to date. He explicitly said he had never heard of it. I took note of this denial," Helme added.

"There were really two papers on the table, one for his resignation, another for his dismissal. I said that in the current situation, it would be unthinkable for him to continue his job and the choice is whether to go himself or have his position terminated," Helme continued.

"There was a draft resignation document on the table. We see things like this every day: a piece of paper with a digital signature on it, but no one has in actuality signed it," Helme added. The signature in question was that of interior ministry general secretary Secretary General Lauri Lugna, who said he did not sign the document himself.

Editor: Andrew Whyte

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