All leading figures of the Center Party today have spent the last six years trying to distance themselves from the party's onerous cooperation protocol with United Russia, claimed to be ceremonial from the first.
However, Edgar Savisaar's criminal dossier reveals an unpleasant fact: Savisaar and the party's financial secretary at the time Kalev Kallo sought a hidden donation from United Russia as recently as in 2014 to help finance the Center Party's parliamentary elections campaign.
It is telling that a large part of the material of the so-called Savisaar criminal saga at Postimees' disposal concentrates on incidents that were not included in charges. The considerable interest of the internal security service in these episodes becomes clear as soon as we see how close the party came to a new Russian financing scandal.
Late November 2014. The Center Party's coffers are all but empty just four months before Riigikogu elections. Kallo finds his back against the wall. If papers are still willing to deter date of payment, television channels want money for advertisements immediately. The party needs at least €120,000 euros urgently.
How to get the money
Savisaar and Kallo meet with two Russian men, Stanislav Alter (69) and Viktor Tarassov (65), at the Poska House in Tallinn on November 30.
Alter is a Tallinn-based car salesman with a colorful background who often travels to Russia. Tarassov is a pensioner who has joined the Center Party a month prior and works as a security guard at the students' home of the Tallinn School of Economics. He has been an energetic activist of Russian parties in Estonia in the past. Sources have claimed he sports a security services background from the time of the previous regime.
The participants do not know their candid conversation is being monitored by the internal security service. Kallo says that he has tried to apply for a bank loan of a million euros by mortgaging the party's €2.03 million office on Toom-Rüütli street in the Old Town. The banks have turned the Center Party down: the law is clear in that no loans can be made available to political parties. All contacts have been utilized; inquiries have been made in Latvia, with bank offices in Moscow considered the next logical step.
“We can't just put a bag in the corner?” Alter suddenly asks, hinting at cash from wealthy businessmen. “A bag wouldn't hurt,” Kallo chuckles uneasily.
Alter explains that his question referred to something else: he is scheduled to travel to Pskov and St. Petersburg the next morning to meet, among other appointments, with the head treasurer of Vladimir Putin's United Russia party.
All of a sudden Savisaar takes control of the conversation and proposes a plan: moving money directly would be too dangerous. The solution is to move money from United Russia through an Estonian individual or company to an NGO with ties to the Center Party. The party would then draft a so-called written order that the money was received in exchange for consultations.
“And, naturally, it should be an Estonian... company or person; doesn't matter which as long as it's basically Estonian. Were it something else... it would be a bigger scandal than...“ Savisaar says, just managing to avoid mentioning the 2010 Russian money scandal.
Alter tries to put Savisaar's mind at ease by saying that the sum the party is asking for is nothing for United Russia. There would be no official proceedings; a delegation from the Russian party would come to Estonia unofficially.
The men agree that the Center Party will find a legal expert who knows all the ins and outs of legislation pertaining to party financing in Estonia as the next step.
Alter says that he will have initial information within a week, and should the deal go ahead, everything will be clear by New Year. “Perhaps by next year I will... have 100 percent clarity in terms of how we could do it,” the businessman from Männiku boasts.
“Well, it is an idea, and if we can find a good contact, of course we must attempt it,” Savisaar says.
Kallo, Tarassov, and Alter meet on several occasions over the next month and a half. In Alexander Kofkin's Meriton hotel, Toompea Castle square, cafe Basiilik in the Sikupilli shopping center. The men discuss salaries of MPs, the Center Party's campaign expenses. The security police takes dozens of photos of the meetings.
From January 2015 Tarassov repeatedly tries to ask Alter whether decisions have been made. The latter is forced to admit they haven't. Tarassov tries to schedule meetings with Savisaar but is not even put through on the phone. Next he attempts to meet with Kallo who is preoccupied with the elections campaign. The men do not meet until April of 2015.
Tarassov told the internal security service in his testimony that he knows Kallo and Savisaar from the 1990s, and that the aim of the Poska House meeting was to involve Alter as a shareholder of Tallinn's cooperative bank. Surveillance data gives no indication that anything of the sort was discussed. Tarassov simply lied to detectives.
Alter told the investigators that he was lying from the first concerning his alleged contact with the head treasurer of United Russia, and that his true goal was to find Tarassov a job. He admitted, however, that he does know some members of the party, and that Kallo and Savisaar were interested in securing Russian sponsorship through these contacts.
When Postimees asked Alter for clarification, he denied even having met Kallo. It is telling, however, how Alter reminds Kallo and Savisaar of their mutual trip to Mineralnye Vody near Stavropol and meeting with its governor Vladimir (Vladimir Vladimirov – ed.) during the Poska House meeting. Kallo's acknowledgment of the meeting points to the fact that the three men have met before that day.
Tallinn city government press releases reveal that Savisaar and Tarassov first visited Mineralnye Vody in 1999. The trip merited a lot of attention at the time as the reasons behind it, as well as the makeup of the delegation, were kept from the public for several days.
Member of the board of the Center Party Mailis Reps said yesterday that she has read the statement of charges and its part regarding United Russia. The Minister of Education and Research said that hope for financing and the meeting followed Savisaar's own initiative.
“Absolutely. Definitely,” Reps said. “There was absolutely no communication between the two parties, and the board of the Center Party was not aware of such plans.”
Reps suggested that Savisaar and his companions proceeded from a conviction that the parties had friendly relations but did not get as far as transferring the money.
“Savisaar was a soloist in the final years. I suppose we are all indirectly responsible for what happened, responsible for having remained members as long as we have; however, this asking for money did not take place on the level of the board, and asking Russia for money ended with the Russian financing scandal for me,” the minister admitted.
“The fact that something like that was attempted again must have been an act of desperation of impunity by Savisaar.”
During the initial days of the forming of Estonia's new government, Prime Minister Jüri Ratas said that the party's cooperation protocol with United Russia is non-functional.