Estonia detains pro-Russian party leader as corruption scandal series extends

By bne IntelliNews September 22, 2015

bne IntelliNews -

 

Estonian anti-corruption police detained Edgar Savisaar, leader of the pro-Russian Centre Party and mayor of Tallinn, over corruption allegations on September 22. 

The arrest adds to a slew of corruption scandals with a political background that have marred Estonia in recent weeks. Also taking in Latvia, and with Russian links commonly in the background, the series indicates a likely ongoing tussle between Baltic and Russian security services over the stability of regional politics. 

Estonia's most popular politician was arrested by the Internal Security Service (ISS) over allegations that he accepted properties and discounts worth hundreds of thousands of euros as bribes last year and this, ERR reports. Savisaar's detention is the third corruption-related scandal in Estonian politics in less than a month. 

In late August, two board members at the state-owned Port of Tallinn, both reportedly with links to the ruling Reform Party, were arrested on corruption charges. The Social Democratic Party has also been targetted, in a case that saw Latvian Rail boss Ugis Magonis arrested earlier this year. 

Estonian locomotive supplier Skinest - owned by prominent businessman Oleg Ossinovski - was reported to have paid Magonis €500,000 as a bribe. Ossinovski's son Yevgeni is the leader of of the Social Democratic Party - a junior member of PM Roivas' precarious rainbow coalition - and has been mooted as a possible PM if the current ruling coalition collapses. 

Reports through the summer suggested the head of Russian Railways, Vladimir Yakunin, was furious over the arrest of his friend Magonis, and had launched a campaign to halt Russian cargo flows through Latvia in retaliation. 

In reaction to Savisaar's detention, the Centre Party claims the ISS' action is politically motivated and an attempt to cover up the Port of Tallinn arrests. The Centre Party has been enjoying the polls of late, moving ahead of Reform as the most popular party just before that scandal broke. 

However, this is hardly the first time Savisaar's name has been mentioned in relation to financial shenanigans. In 2010, the ISS said the mayor was offered funding for Centre Party by Yakunin. In 2013, Savisaar was implicated in a money laundering investigation, but the case was eventually dropped. 

While leading one of the two largest parties of Estonian politics since founding it two decades ago, Savisaar has remained in opposition, apart from a few month as prime minister in the early 1990s. The ethnic basis of the party means rivals tend to isolate it and its Russian electorate. 

This latest scandal, coming on top of the others, supports suggestions of a low-level surreptitious war being waged, as Russian security services attempt to destabilise politics in the region. An ongoing - and heavily connected - fight in the Baltic region's vital transportation sector, which has been struggling through the standoff between the West and Russia, also appears in full swing. 

Meanwhile, Estonian prosecutors have revealed the names of several other suspects in the case, including Tallinn City Council Chairman Kalev Kallo and former politician Vello Reiljan. Businessmen Aivar Tuulberg, Alexander Kofkin, Vello Kunman and Hillar Teder are suspected of having handed over the bribes. 

Tuulberg is one of the largest shareholders in construction company Rand & Tuulberg. Kunman is owner of financial company Silikaat Grupp. Police are reported to be currently searching several properites, including those of Tallinn city government. 

 

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