Number of suspects in Kohtla-Järve corruption investigation rises to 17


Six more people have been declared suspects in a Police and Border Guard Board (PPA) investigation into a corruption scandal which has engulfed the city government and council in the eastern Estonian town of Kohtla-Järve.

The new suspects are in addition to 11 individuals, with the ringleader local businessman Nikolai Ossipenko, who have already been declared suspects in an alleged corruption ring in Kohtla-Järve which effectively sees the city's politics, governance and much of its business run by Ossipenko.

The total makes up more than half the ruling coalition in the town.

Even those more concerned with business than with politics in any case have been involved in the latter; of the now-17 suspects, only one, Timofei Korepov, did not run in the local elections almost a year ago to the day, though he is a former policeman and was responsible for law enforcement areas of city governance.

The six latest suspects are (in alphabetical order): Kohtla-Järve deputy Zaur Abbasov (Center), 36, councilor Vladimir Evve (Center), 62, councilor Svetlana Kollo (Center), 50, deputy mayor in several districts Ülle Lepassaar (Center), 66, councillor Jaanek Pahka (Restart Kohtla-Järve electoral alliance), 49, and councilor Anna Rentik, 77 (Center).

All of the above sit on various council committees, giving them extra clout in the management of Kohtla-Järve, while despite the city having a population of over 33,000, none of them received votes of more than three figures in last October's local election, with Abbasov polling just 111 votes and Pahka topping out with as many as 319 votes.

Party names are as of the local elections; many of the councilors have been expelled from their party in the wake of the scandal.

These names should be added to the list already enumerated, namely: Council chair Tiit Lillemets (Center), Maria Merkulova, deputy council chair (Progress Kohtla-Järve electoral list), councilors Anton Dijev (Center), Deniss Veršinin (Center), Vitali Borodin (Reform), Evelyn Danilov (Jõhvikad electoral alliance), deputy mayor Aljona Kazakova (Center), Timofei Korepov – non-partisan government official, who has a law-enforcement background, Kirill Kõpp (Progress), also works for N&V, an Ossipenko-owned company, Jevgeni Makarov (Jõhvikad), a board member of Ekonv Grupp, yet another Ossipenko company, plus Ossipenko himself, who has avoided trial so far, after claiming sickness.

The alleged corruption activities mainly involve the giving and taking of bribes, and influence peddling, with respect of various service contracts and procurements in the city and its environs.

In line with standard Estonian practice, the Prosecutor's Office directs the PPA in its investigation. It was the former who requested, again as per standard procedure, Ossipenko's formal arrest, which would have resulted in his incarceration for up to two months, from the first-tier Viru County Court, but this was declined. The Prosecutor's Office is now appealing this decision with the second-tier Tartu Circuit Court.

The media was also banned at the last minute from attending Ossipenko's initial hearing last week, also by Viru County Court.

Read the article at ERR.