Prosecutor's office charges former Center secgen with influence peddling

The coalition Center Party has been charged with influence peddling in respect of a central Tallinn real estate development. The party's former secretary general, Mihhail Korb, and businessman Hillar Teder, have also been charged with the same offense.

The charge sheet states that Korb used his personal and political influence in brokering a favorable deal for Teder on the Porto Franco complex, in Tallinn's harbor district.

Teder in return pledged to donate up to €1 million to Center.

Commenting on the charges, state prosecutor Taavi Pern said that such agreements harm a fair economic environment.

He said: "Public sector decisions must be, and also give the appearance of being, transparent, and this can only be achieved when decisions are taken on similar grounds in similar situations, and always according to the same principles."

The prosecutor's office says that setting an easement fee – effectively the sum paid to the city for access to and from the site – for Porto Franco at €301,000, down from its original level of €776,580, was not done in accordance with the principles outlined above.

Teder allegedly donated €120,000 at the same time the fee was cut.

Pern also said that based on detailed evidence gathered, the prosecutor's office is convinced that the prosecution will hold up in court.

He said: "The pre-trial proceedings in this criminal case were quite protracted, but it was very thorough. In my opinion, very detailed evidence was collected, the content of which I unfortunately cannot disclose at the moment."

The case has been separated into several separate components; charges of offering or facilitating a bribe against Teder and former finance ministry adviser Kersti Kracht were brought in early April, as well as other unnamed individuals,

Friday's charge against Teder, who, like Kracht, served real jail time in 2021 in respect of the Porto Franco activities, is separate from the one issued in early April.

Pern added that all suspects relating to the Porto Franco scandal have now been charged.

Mihhail Korb's parliamentary immunity was waived, as per standard practice, last month, to allow him to be charged.

Korb's successor as secretary general, Andre Hanimägi, says the party wants proceedings to proceed as quickly as possible, adding that no wrong doing on the part of the party was knowingly committed.

Hanimägi said: "It was actually known that the accusation was coming. Mikhail Korb was only recently deprived of his parliamentary immunity. He himself agreed that the investigation would go faster and these things would become clearer."

"The interest of the Center Party is the same; we certainly do not think that the party did anything wrong here. There is really no knowledge that anything has been done wrong at the city level, not to mention this being related to the former secretary general and the Center Party," he added.

The investigation was conducted by the Internal Security Service (ISS) as directed by the prosecutor's office.

In January 2021, media reports that the ISS was conducting the investigation led to the resignation of Center leader Jüri Ratas as prime minister within hours, and with it the collapse of the Center/EKRE/Isamaa coalition.

Center reentered office in coalition with Reform later that month.

Read the article at ERR.