Witness implies €50,000 alleged Savisaar bribe meant for unrelated purpose

Aivar Tuulberg at Harju County Court Tuesday.
Aivar Tuulberg at Harju County Court Tuesday. Source: Anna Aurelia Minev/ERR

The latest hearing in alleged associates of Edgar Savisaar, standing as co-defendants in the long-running corruption trial involving the former Tallinn mayor, brought construction magnate Aivar Tuulberg to Harju County Court Tuesday. Tuulberg, who stands accused of offering bribes to Savisaar during his tenure as mayor, allegedly gave Savisaar €80,000, in two installments of €50,000 and €30,000. However, Tuulberg's defense has produced a witness who said Tuulberg gave him a sum of the same value, at around the same time in 2014 as the alleged backhander was paid, for use in an unrelated sailing event.

The witness at Tuesday's hearing, Mati Sepp, said that Tuulberg had provided him with €50,000, cash, for a sailing competition which the two men were involved in, BNS reports.

According to the Harju County Court statement of charges, Tuulberg approached Savisaar over the tender for the Kultuurikatel Creative Hub in central Tallinn, in late 2014.

Tuulberg allegedly wanted to eliminate a competiing bid, to the benefit of his own company, Rand & Tullberg AS.

The alleged backhander was aimed at removing Antifire Tuleohutuslahendused OÜ and OÜ Tafrix from the race, to give OÜ Astlanda Ehitus as well as Rand & Tullberg the contract.

Two payments were allegedly made from Tuulberg to Savisaar, one of €50,000 and one of €30,000, according to the Harju court's statement of charges.

Witness says Tuulberg did pay €50,000 cash in late 2014, but for sailing activities

Mati Sepp said that he has been an acquaintance of Tuulberg for over 15 years, adding the pair share an active interest in sailing. Sepp said that he did not know Edgar Savisaar, however.

"Tuulberg and I have ... participated in sailing championships. In 2014, Aivar took part in one of my training camps and we also participated in competitions," Sepp said, according to BNS.

Enumerating costs of running yachts to be between €50,000 and €500,000 per annum, in addition to the initial outlay in buying or renting a boat (€100,000-€500,000, Sepp said), the 2014 competition saw Tuulberg as captain and Sepp team manager and helmsman, with the two men sharing competition expenses, including logistics, between them, on the basis of the ability to pay.

Sepp added that all dealings were in cash, which he said was the norm in yachting, and that Tuulberg had financed the initial stages of the competition project.

"At the end of 2014, Aivar paid €50,000 in cash, which covered half of the sum we needed. A lot of the expenses at the world championship are paid in cash, for instance, renting a yacht has to be paid for in cash to private owners as well as the deposit," Sepp said. 

Sepp said he could not recall the exact where or when he had received the €50,000 cash from Tuulberg.

The removal of the Antifire/Tafrix Kultuurikatel bid allegedly started with Savisaar instructing head of Tallinn's enterprise department, and Kultuurikatel supervisory board chari, Kairi Vaher, which resulted in a directive from Vaino Sarnet, Kultuurikatel board chair, to eliminate Antifire and Tafrix, being submitted to the public procurement dispute settlement committee, effectively knocking them out of the race.

The Kultuurikatel contract was worth €3,146,664.15 plus VAT, BNS reports, and was concluded between it and Astlanda Ehitus/Rand & Tuulberg in December 2014.

Savisaar corruption trial Timeline

Several co-defendants in a notably complex case have already had their hearings, in some cases having their aspects to the case separated from the main hearings and coming to plea bargain agreements. The Centre Party itself has also been on trial as a legal entity. The following is a brief summary of the story so far.

Apr. 2007: Edgar Savisaar, Centre Party co-founder and former prime minister of Estonia elected Tallinn mayor, a little over two weeks before the "Bronze Soldier night" riots. His tenure is dogged with controversy even before the later allegations and trial, with charges of links to Russia, corruption, and differences of opinion on the handling of the Bronze Soldier night riots with the government of then-prime minister Andrus Ansip (Reform), all occuring, as well as various wars of words with then-president Toomas Hendrik Ilves.


March: After contracting a Streptococcal infection while on a trip to Thailand, Savisaar's right leg is amputated, above the knee.

Sept.: Internal Security Service (ISS) announces it is engaged in criminal investigations into Savisaar and six others in relation to bribery allegations. State prosecutor Lavly Perling confirms this and names the other six as Aivar Tuulberg, Alexander Kofkin, Vello Kunman, Hillar Teder, Kalev Kallo and Vello Reiljan. The initial charges concern accepting bribes worth hundreds of thousands of euros over the period 2014-2015 as regard Savisaar and the Centre Party, and the offering of bribes in the case of most of the co-defendants. Other charges related to corruption emerge in the course of the investigation.

Savisaar is suspended from office at the end of the month. Taavi Aas (Centre) becomes acting mayor.


Feb: Preliminary hearings into Edgar Savisaar corruption case, mainly involving charges of giving and taking bribes, embezzlement of party funds, illicit donations and money laundering, begin at Harju county court.

March: First time Savisaar's health issues, which eventually led to his own trial being wound up, emerge, as his defense counsel Oliver Nääs petitions court to suspend hearings.

June: Harju County Court opts to push forward in Savisaar hearings after medical examinations find no cause to halt them further. Savisaar is later hospitalized during hearings.

Sept.: Former Centre Party secretary general Priit Toobal refuses to testify at Harju County Court against his old boss.

Oct.: Co-defendant Priit Kutser, a former Tallinn city official, fails to provide proof of claimed. illness after not attending a hearing the previous month. Kutser's proceedings are later concluded for reasons of expediency.

Former MP and environment minster Villu Reiljan enters into a plea bargain which required him to pay just over €33,000 to state coffers.

Nov.: Savisaar hearing initially postponed to January 2018 on health issues. This later drags on through to summer 2018 as further medical evidence is examined amid claims made that Savisaar is unfit to stand trial, and that doing so may even endanger his life.


Feb: Chief State Prosecutor Steven-Hristo Evestus says Savisaar charges should be separated from those of co-defendants in order to make progress.

May-June: Following the results of Savisaar's medical assessment, Harju County Court closes his case, on health issues. The prosecutor's office appeals the decision.

Aug: Second-tier Circuit Court overturns the Harju County Court decision to close Savisaar's own case, calling the move premature, thus reopening it. Savisaar's defense say they will take the matter to the highest court in the land, the Supreme Court.

Dec.: Supreme Court upholds the Harju County Court's original decision to close Savisaar's tiral on health grounds.


Feb: Savisaar likely to receive €100,000 in funds confiscated through the trial, though not the full sum of over €200,000 he requested.

April: Trial of co-defendants in Savisaar case reopens.

May: co-defendant Kalev Kallo stripped of parliamentary immunity after charges of giving and receiving bribes.

June: Centre Party expresses desire to enter plea bargain with the prosecutor's office; its proceedings are separated form the bulk of the case, and the party is fined €250,000 suspended for six months pending no further infringements, as well as €25,000 which it has to pay up.

Businessman Hillar Teder admits to having provided a loan of €275,000 to  former Centre Party campaign mastermind Paavo Pettai in 2014, amounting to covert financing for Centre. In a plea deal, Teder is ordered to pay €200,000 to the state.

Aug. 2019: At his Harju Court hearing, businessman Vello Kunman denies attempting to bribe the former Tallinn mayor. Kuman's defense counsel Paul Keres tries unsuccessfully to call co-defendant Villu Reiljan (see above) as a witness.

At his hearing, businessman Alexander Kofkin denies attempting to bribe Savisaar. A witness said that Kofkin had paid Savisaar's medical bills after treatment in Malaga, Spain.

Sept.: Aivar Tuulberg hearing commences.

Sentences in the cases of Tuulberg, Kofkin and Kallo have yet to be concluded. As noted Teder and Reiljan, as well as the Centre Party itself, entered into plea bargains, and Kutser's case was wound up.

Editor: Andrew Whyte

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