Former EKRE member unilaterally invoiced TV house architects for €10,000

Former EKRE member Endel Oja.
Former EKRE member Endel Oja. Source: Siim Lõvi/ERR

A former Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE) member, Endel Oja, chair of its economic affairs committee, parliamentary candidate and party donor seemingly attempted to use inside information on the proposed new ERR TV house, for his own company's benefit and to exploit possible funding issues, ERR's online news in Estonian reports.

Architecture firm Kadarik Tüür, tasked with designing the new TV house, says it received an out-of-the-blue invoice from Endel Oja, for proposed consultancy work on the firm's designs for ERR's new TV house. Oja was an EKRE member at the time, and had run for parliament for the party at the March elections. He was also chair of its economic affairs committee. He left EKRE in September, at the party's suggestion.

Endel had approached Ott Kadarik of Kadarik Tüür in early July via email, and visited the company's office several times after that, discussing the construction of the TV house. While Kadarik Tüür had been awarded the contract for designing the TV house in April, the coalition, of which EKRE is a part, had not made a decision on financing the building at that point.

The government decided later in the summer to put up €22 million for the new TV house, making the announcement in mid-August, a spend which appeared in September's state budget.

Despite the fact Kadarik Tüür had not requested nor required his consultation, Oja nonetheless invoiced them for €10,000 plus VAT, for his own firm, Astrohouse OÜ.

The nature of the services on offer remained unclear, Kadarik Tüür says, and the company rejected any such work or further consultation on the topic, it is reported.

"Architects are engaged in creative work, i.e. the planning of buildings and urban spaces, and such situations are clearly unfamiliar and unpleasant for us," Ott Kadarik said, according to ERR's Estonian portal.

Kadarik Tüür then approached their lawyer, who saw Oja's actions as potentially irregular. Following this information being forwarded to EKRE headquarters, Endel Oja emailed Kadarik Tüür, telling them he was no longer either a member of EKRE or chair of its economic committee. This did not sway Kadarik Tüür's decision to rebuff his advances, however.

Oja says wanted to find investor to move TV house project along

For his part, Oja told ERR Tuesday that what Kadarik had said was true, noting that as a small businessman who deals with real estate he had information to the effect that making the decision to build ERR's new TV house had been complicated, adding that the state had little funds to hand, meaning his offer could provide solutions to this.

"I suggested that I could be involved in searching for an investor who could get involved as some sort of public-private partnership option. It is certainly not the kind of activity that run around and manage at the same time. I then suggested that they were, on the one hand, an interested party who could offload their design, and at the same time I could bring in an investor, creating a win-win situation," he continued.

Oja also said it transpired a different financing system was found for the project, thus his opportunity had evaporated.

"I admit that as a member of EKRE and the head of its economic committee, I did the wrong thing. Naturally, I didn't use any contacts in the party; no one knew about it. It was purely my own initiative as a small businessman," he claimed.

EKRE leader's response

EKRE chair Mart Helme denied all knowledge of the attempted deal. "I have no idea about this. And I am aware that Endel Oja has left our party as of now," Helme told ERR on Tuesday.

Asked about ERR's question whether asking for money was the reason why the party recommended Oja to leave the party, Helme replied that it should be asked by Endel Oja himself.

As to whether the request that Oja leave the party arose from the TV house invoicing issue, Helme replied that this was a question for Oja himself.

MEP and executive board member at EKRE Jaak Madison however told ERR that if what was reported is true, this was a fairly serious case.

"This is definitely not acceptable," Madison said.

Oja firm's fortunes waxed after joining EKRE

Oja joined EKRE in October 2017 and left on Sept. 18 this year, after the party's board summoned him to a meeting, suggesting he resign, which he went along with there and then. He would neither confirm nor deny whether EKRE reported the incident to the police.

Oja had been a member of Isamaa 2014-2017. His firm, Astrohouse OÜ, saw a rapid growth soon after he joined EKRE, with turnover rising from €6,500 in 2017, to €59,400 in 2018, and profits from €127 to €23,600 over the same period, ERR's online Estonian news reports.

According to Astrohouse OÜ's annual report, several companies became clients after 2017, including US Invest, owned by noted businessman and Estonian Olympic Committee Chair Urmas Sõõrumaa.

As EKRE's economic affairs committee chair, Oja was one of the primary authors of the economic component of the party's pre-election manifesto. After winning 19 seats and going into coalition negotiations with Centre and Isamaa, EKRE entered office for the first time at the end of April.

Oja himself ran as a candidate at the general election in March, getting 528 votes in the Kesklinn, Lasnamäe and Pirita constituency, insufficient to gain a seat.

He also donated €2,000 to EKRE in late 2018, it is reported.

ERR's proposed new TV house

The coalition announced it had allocated €22 million for the construction of the new TV house in August. Kadarik Tüür's design was announced as the winner from a design competition in April, winning €20,000 for their troubles.

The new TV house would replace the current facilities at Gonsiori 27/Faehlmanni 12, which critics say fails to meet safety requirements, and is energy-inefficient, in addtion to being somewhat dilapidated.

The proposed TV building would accommodate over 400 workplaces, with the old buildings to be sold. Funds raised from that sale would also go towards constructing the new house.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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