Daily: Ex-Reform MP Palling involved in multiple conflicts of interest

Correspondence and documents obtained by daily Eesti Päevaleht (EPL) show that ride-hailing platform Uber lobbied for legislative changes around the world, and that Kalle Palling, a former Reform Party MP, was involved on multiple occasions in conflicts of interest.

Seven years ago, when Uber was already established in Tallinn but operating in a legal gray area, Andreas Kaju, co-owner of communications firm Meta Advisory and one of Estonia's most prominent lobbyists, was tasked with convincing politicians that Uber was not a taxi company, that drivers were not Uber employees, and that Uber was merely a tech startup that connected drivers and riders — "ridesharing" was the buzzword at the time.

In pursuit of this objective, Uber and Meta Advisory collaborated with Reform Party member Kalle Palling, at the time an influential member of the Riigikogu, chairman of the European Union Affairs Committee, one of partymate Prime Minister Taavi Rõivas' closest advisers — and who became a public and private advocate for the legislative changes Uber needed in Estonia, EPL reported.

Correspondence and documents in possession of the daily show that Palling was consistently involved in a conflict of interest when advocating for the sharing economy.

For instance, following one of Palling's addresses to MEPs in the European Parliament on the topic of ridesharing legislation, Kaju wrote to his Uber contact that Palling wanted Kaju's company to campaign for him in the upcoming European elections, which would bring him to Brussels. This would mean that the same lobbying firm is representing both the entrepreneur with a clear interest in a legislative change and the politician most firmly in favor of that change.

The daily also reported that, for instance, in defending the so-called "Uber bill" in the Riigikogu, Palling repeatedly cited a Tallinn University (TLÜ) study on vehicle owners' attitudes without disclosing that it had been commissioned and funded by Uber, the bill's primary beneficiary.

Both Kaju and Palling told EPL that Meta Advisory has not launched any political election campaign for Palling, but nonetheless declined to comment on the planning thereof.

The daily also reported that it was evident in another email exchange in its possession that while the "Uber bill" was in development, Palling began looking for a job outside of politics, citing the account of Mark MacGann, then a senior adviser to Uber's board of directors, of the exchange as evidence.

MacGann recounted a "long and thorough one-on-one conversation" with Palling in Helsinki in June 2016 in which Palling asked for an Uber lobbyist for help getting a "high-paying in-house job" should he not get a high enough position after the European Parliament elections.

Palling, who has since retired from politics, told EPL that allegations that he had asked Mark MacGann for a job were untrue.

Meta Advisory's role in Uber affair previously reported

The role of Meta Advisory and law firm Sorainen in the process of amending the Public Transport Act in accordance with Uber's interests has previously been covered in the Estonian media.

Citing files in its possession, another daily, Postimees, reported in November 2016 that Sorainen lawyer Mihkel Miidla and Andreas Kaju were the actual authors of the draft amendment to the Public Transport Act submitted to the Riigikogu by Palling, and that this amendment merely passed through the desk of Sander Salm, a department director at the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications.

Palling did not deny at the time that he had initiated the draft in the Riigikogu to save time at the expense of the coordination hurdle, claiming that passing it through the ministry would have taken an additional year and a half.

In 2016, Postimees reported the intention to get the proposed amendment, the text of which had been drawn up by a private company, passed into law. With help from a member of Reform's parliamentary group and ignoring the procedures of good legislative practice, the draft was submitted to Riigikogu procedure without having first been coordinated with any relevant decision-makers; everyone saw the bill for the first time at its first reading in the Session Hall of the Riigikogu.

Read the article at ERR.