Two plead guilty in Center €50,000 illegal donation case

The trial concerning an illicit donation made to the Center Party started at the Harju County Court on Thursday. Martin Künnap and Jana-Helen Juhaste pleaded guilty after prosecutor Taavi Pern gave the court an overview of charges, while the third accused Catalina Porro did not.

The Office of the Prosecutor General is accusing Künnap and Porro of entering into an agreement of influence peddling. According to the charges, Künnap gave Porro €20,000 and the Center Party €50,000 in exchange for an alleged promise of favorable building rights decisions for a Tallinn Hippodrome real estate development of companies associated with the former.

Martin Künnap said that he did not know a single Center Party politician himself and that he was surprised when he was asked for money. He also said that it was initially suggested he should donate €100,000 and that the idea to find an intermediary came from Porro.

Even though the charges suggest Porro's claims of having influence in the matter were unsubstantiated, causing the influence peddling attempt to fail to arrive at the desired outcome, the prosecution finds that an attempt to promote business using illicit means was nevertheless made.

Künnap and Juhaste are also charged with making an illicit donation. Charges suggest Künnap donated €50,000 to NGO Center Party but did it with Juhaste's help to conceal his involvement. Künnap claimed in court that he was told the city would have shut down the development had he refused to pay.

Jana-Helen Juhaste said that no one at the Center Party took an interest in the donation before it was picked up by the media and the Political Parties Financing Supervision Committee (ERJK).

Chief state prosecutor Taavi Pern said that criminal proceedings can be concluded in summary procedure and that the prosecution feels Juhaste and her former partner Martin Künnap should donate to the Tallinn Children's Hospital and the children's fund of the Tartu University Hospital.

Regarding Porro, the prosecution feels that agreement process is in order.

Pern sees illegal donations and influence peddling as threats to honest competition and trust in public authority. "Political parties have the responsibility to consider the financial motives of sponsors when accepting donations. The origin and aim of the money needs to be checked as thoroughly as possible when it comes to major donations."

"Pursuing business goals in a dishonest or criminal manner works to deepen the mindset according to which one cannot get ahead honestly. The only way to stop this mentality from spreading is by boosting transparency in decision-making and having more effective control mechanisms. Influence peddlers are scaring away other market participants, with corrupt transactions ultimately damaging the entire business environment. The worst consequences did not manifest in this case because alleged influence was peddled by a rank and file member of the party without involving others. That is why charges were not brought against leading members of the [Center] party or the NGO itself," the prosecutor added.

Ats Kübarsepp, head of the corruption crime unit of the Central Criminal Police, said that every agreement to provide someone with an illegal advantage harms the whole of society. "We are working to keep our business environment honest and will bring criminal proceedings if necessary. In this case, the police identified the true owner of the donated money and investigated whether the party was aware of the origin of the money and why it was donated. We also verified the credibility of statements and public comments made by the sides involved. The investigation found that the public explanations of the sponsor and the real owner of the money were misleading and the donation illicit which the concerned parties had to realize," Kübarsepp said.

Read the article at ERR.