Defense considering seeking removal of judge on Port of Tallinn trial

Former Port of Tallinn executive Ain Rand; behind him, defense lawyer Paul Keres.
Former Port of Tallinn executive Ain Rand; behind him, defense lawyer Paul Keres. Source: Siim Lõvi/ERR

Paul Keres, the defense lawyer of the former Port of Tallinn (AS Tallinna Sadam) management board chairman Ain Kaljurand in the trial of former Port of Tallinn executives, is considering whether to seek the removal of the current judge from the case, daily Postimees reported.

The trial may be upended by the decision made by Judge Kristina Väliste on Thursday not to satisfy Keres' request to remand additional documents from Port of Tallinn for the trial, Postimees writes.

Keres wants Port of Tallinn to present documents related to the drawing up of contracts and which concern contract partners similar to those involved in the trial.

"We want to demonstrate  that what the Prosecutor's Office is criticizing Ain Kaljurand for as a favor in return for a bribe was, in fact, quite common practice at Port of Tallinn," Keres said. "But the judge assumed the position that such evidence was not needed in the proceedings.

The lawyer acknowledged that the judge's position must be accepted.

"But whether the judge's words also indicate her bias remains to be determined," he continued, adding taht he does not want to comment on the judge's alleged bias before listening to the recording of Thursday's hearing. "This is a serious matter that cannot be discussed willy-nilly. But the reasoning in the court order was such that needs thorough scrutiny."

Should Keres submit a request seeking the judge's removal from the trial, the decision regarding the removal must be made immediately, and so if Keres were to submit his request on Tuesday, it would be determined that same day whether Väliste would continue as the judge presiding over the Port of Tallinn trial. Should Väliste withdraw, however, the long-awaited trial, which began on May 7, would be back at square one.

The trial has by now reached the stage in which witnesses are being heard.
In connection with Keres' plan to submit an application for the removal of the judge from the trial, other defense lawyers found on Thursday that the trial should be suspended until Keres' application has been resolved.

Opposed to this was Marko Kairjak, the defense lawyer of Port of Tallinn, who noted that Keres had not submitted the request.

"This is currently just an idea in Paul Keres' head," Kairjak said. "In this case, we could all demand that the trial be suspended whenever an idea pops into our heads."

Väliste herself agreed with Kairjak's sentiment.

Media banned from reporting on trial

With a June 6 ruling, Harju County court prohibited the reporting of hearings in the trial of former Port of Tallinn executives and their fellow defendants in the media.

Pursuant to the court ruling, in the interests of the proper administration of justice, parties to the proceeding and others present in the courtroom, including reporters, are required to keep the content of witness statements confidential until the end of the judicial investigation.

At the end of May, Harju County Court delivered the first decision in the trial by agreeing to a plea deal with defendant Valdo Õunap in which he was sentenced to a conditional two years and six months in prison.

The trial of the remaining defendants will resume in accordance with regular procedure.

State Prosecutor Laura Feldmanis read the statement of charges on May 8, after which all of the defendants save for Õunap, who said that he would leave the matter of his guilt to be decided by the court, pleaded not guilty. In mid-May, Õunap filed an application with the court seeking a plea bargain.

Based on evidence collected by the Internal Security Service (ISS) over the course of an investigation lasting approximately three years, the Office of the Prosecutor General has accused Allan Kiil and Ain Kaljurand, ex-executives of the now-listed port company Port of Tallinn, of accepting bribes on a large scale and money laundering taking place from 2005-2015.

A third person, former head of the Port of Tallinn Service Department Martin Paide, is also accused of accepting bribes, and seven more physical and two legal persons are accused of giving a bribe and complicity in giving bribes.

Charges have also been filed against Eno Saar, Tõnis Pohla, Üllar Raad, Sven Honga, Toivo Promm, Valdo Õunap and Jan Paszkowski, as well as the companies HTG Invest AS and Keskkonnahoolduse OÜ.

According to the statement of charges, Kiil and Kaljurand agreed to accept bribes from several businesses in return for ensuring that these businesses' contractual relations with Port of Tallinn are as smooth as possible.

Over the course of ten years, Kiil and Kaljurand, acting together as well as separately, to accept bribes in the total amount of almost €4 million.

The biggest portion thereof, approximately €3 million, was a bribe promised to Kiil by representatives of Turkish and Polish shipbuilding companies for being awarded the contracts to build ferries for Port of Tallinn subsidiary TS Laevad.

According to the charges, Paide was prepared to accept a bribe of more than €40,000, Kaljurand of approximately €400,000 and Kiil of €3.5 million. While the promised bribes in full reached Paide and Kaljurand, Kiil only had time to accept approximately €2 million prior to his arrest.

Kiil and Kaljurand were arrested on Aug. 26, 2015, but released at the beginning of 2016.

The criminal investigation was led by the Office of the Prosecutor General and conducted by the Internal Security Service.


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Editor: Aili Vahtla

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