In the climax of Estonia's biggest domestic political shakeup since Hermann Simm was convicted as a Russian spy in 2008, a statement by KAPO Director Raivo Aeg unveils dinner parties, country estate visits, motorboat joyrides and clandestine meetings – all to organize the transfer of 1.5 million euros from the pockets of an ex-KGB officer to the Estonian capital's most influential political party.
Earlier in the day, KAPO briefed the Government Security Commission - seated by the country's top officials - after which the committee recommended that KAPO open up the details of the case to the public.
Just hours later, the KAPO director revealed what has been called "loathsome and disgusting“ by the Prime Minister and "undemocratic“ by the European Commission Vice President.
At the center of the mess is perhaps Estonia's most controversial politico, a man beloved by some for his efforts to win the hearts of ethnic Russians through populist appeal, Tallinn Mayor and Chairman of the Centre Party Edgar Savisaar. He was known to be friendly with the Russian Federation, but the extent of his relations unraveled after December 16, when an anonymous source told the media that intelligence communication held by the country's top officials deemed Savisaar a threat to national security.
An Innocent Prologue
This spring, Savisaar traveled to Russia on a relations-building visit, which the national counterintelligence agency, KAPO, asserts in documents leaked to the media, led to "the most insipid story for our country's morale in the last 20 years."
Savisaar was headed to Moscow to meet Vladimir Yakunin, a former KGB officer, and a close friend of Russian prime minister Vladimir Putin. Director of the state-owned Russian Railways, Yakunin tends to stay out of public attention; however, the New York Times called him a potential candidate in Russia's 2008 presidential elections.
KAPO's declassified account of Savisaar's relationship with Yakunin begins on February 9, during a conference in Estonia for the railroad industry. That evening, a dinner took place at which Tallinn's Mayor, as well as Deputy Mayor Deniss Boroditsh, spoke with the Russian Railways boss and his administrative director, Vladimir Bushuyev.
During the dinner, Savisaar asked for funding from the deep-pocketed Yakunin to build an Orthodox Russian church in Tallinn's Lasnamäe district. Yakunin agreed to the investment, requesting an invoice. Savisaar said the church facade would cost 1.5 million euros.
During the same visit, Yakunin also met with Metropolitan Kornili, head of the Russian Orthodox Diocese in Estonia.
Sergei Petrov, a coal businessman from Petromaks Spediitor Ltd., was put in charge of solving the technical questions on the Russian end of the affairs. The majority of the money was transferred through Sergei Petrov's companies to the accounts of the Orthodox church in Estonia between February and October 2010.
Boat Rides and Country Estates
On May 10 and 11, Savisaar and Estonian MP Vladimir Velman visited Moscow, where they arranged for Yakunin's visit to Estonia in June. On June 23, the Estonian and Russian collaborators visited the church construction site. That evening, Yakunin arrived to Estonia, and was entertained on Savisaar's country estate to celebrate the Summer Solstice (one of Estonia's most important national holidays).
The following day, before noon, the guests were taken for a joyride on a motorboat in the bay of Tallinn, during which Yakunin told Tallinn's deputy mayor that he would provide only 1.5 million of the 3 million euros asked to fund the Centre Party during Estonia's national parliamentary elections.
Continuing their sightseeing trip, the group visited an isolated historical manor in the countryside of West Viru County, where Savisaar, Boroditsh, Bushuyev, Petrov and Yakunin dissolved to discuss the details of the transaction. One-third of the money would be paid in cash, and the rest would seep through various bank transfers. Savisaar remarked that the whole sum could be paid in cash.
Then, the KAPO statement details, Yakunin, an experienced former ex-KGB officer, stressed to his partners the secrecy of their dealings, so to exclude the use of telephones for financial questions and arranging meetings.
Petrov and Tallinn's deputy mayor were put in charge of "legalizing“ the financial transfers.
Savisaar and his deputy mayor visited Moscow again on September 13, attending a dinner at the headquarters of Russian Railways. The men talked with Yakunin about the progress of the church, and how to specifically time the stages of construction to influence the Estonian parliamentary elections, ostensibly by winning over the local ethnic Russian minority. The cross blessing ceremony at the Russian Orthodox church – built with 1.5 million euros attained by Savisaar – would take place just weeks ahead of the elections.
KAPO's Watchful Eye
On October 27, Petrov came to Estonia and struggled to contact Tallinn's Deputy Mayor, who could not be reached because he was on vacation abroad. The Russian businessman returned to Moscow the next day, immediately notifying Bushuyev that the prearranged meeting did not work out.
"Based on the above information, KAPO had enough basis to believe that the Russian side was actively seeking contacts to transfer the money to the Centre Party,“ wrote KAPO director Raivo Aeg.
Anticipating Yakunin's and Bushuyev's visit to the birthday of the Estonian Railway on November 4, KAPO decided on November 3 to precede the dealings and approach Savisaar and later Petrov, who arrived to Estonia on the same day.
"Savisaar's attention was directed to security threats resulting from potentially compromising himself and his party through the political party's request for money from a foreign country,“ wrote KAPO.
On November 4, KAPO questioned Boroditsh, who had returned from vacation.
These preventive measures could have blocked the party's covert financing, as the national security committee briefed by KAPO asserted on December 21.
Knowing that KAPO was on their heels, on November 6, Savisaar and Yakunin discussed during a telephone call the need to sign a legal public contract for the Lasnamäe church to legitimize the affair and avoid a political explosion.
The deal was made on November 26, when Bushuyev arrived from Moscow with the signature of Sergei Sthseblygin, the president of the Andrei Pervozvannyi Fund. The document was also signed by Metropolitan Kornili, head of the Russian Orthodox Diocese in Estonia. The mayor of Tallinn presented the document to Tallinn City Council on the following day.
The Decline of a Legacy?
Amidst the avalanche of media-moderated attacks in the past week, it seems that everyone has turned against Savisaar, a former prime minister. Criticism from his biggest political rival, Prime Minister Andrus Ansip, who hasn't talked to him since 2007, was expected. But now even the Social Democrats, the allies of the Centre Party, have asked for Tallinn's mayor and deputy mayor to step down from their posts.
Savisaar has hit back at KAPO with his own accusation, blaming forces in Russia of conspiring to eliminate him from the scene, as he has continued defending the interests of Estonia.