“We now made a proper decision,” said chairman of the board Sille Talvet-Unt in summary of the three-month internal investigation the conclusions of which largely coincide with those drawn by an audit carried out by the finance ministry last year.
The investigation concludes that the board of the enterprise support agency made a mistake in 2012 when it decreed First Lady Evelin Ilves' OÜ Ermamaa must return just 10 percent of a grant made available to the presidential couple's tourism farm should it not be used for intended purpose from 2017.
A legally sound treatment would have resulted in a conclusion that because Ermamaa only used the conference center and accommodation facilities purposefully for six months, damages can be assessed: 90 percent of support, or €171,353.52, is non-eligible. The fact that Ilves hosted foreign dignitaries at the farm does not qualify as purposeful use of facilities.
EAS now admits that the board also made mistakes under previous chairman Hanno Tomberg in allowing the decision to stand. “EAS could have given more consideration to the possibility of abrogating the 2012 decision and carrying out a new analysis in the fall of 2016,” Talvet-Unt said.
Whose recommendation led to the unsound decision in the first place and why, the audit's summary does not reveal.
“We have not established anyone having been swayed in making decisions,” Talvet-Unt said. “Looking at the big picture, we do not deem it proper to amplify certain circumstances or the roles of certain people now. In any case, the agency as a whole is responsible for the decisions of its boards past and present.”
The chairman added that the main lesson EAS has to take away from this is that it is important to take time for decisions in situations out of the ordinary. “We have drawn our own conclusions, and we plan to base future decisions on those conclusions,” she said.
The agency's investigation also concluded that asking Ilves to return the support sum now would be in violation of the principle of legitimate expectation as well as a hopeless legal perspective.
Because Ilves returned €19,000 to EAS last October, the agency will pay back the remaining €152,000 to the European Commission from own funds. Maria Alajõe, who has applied for a second term as chief of the Office of the Riigikogu, remained unavailable for comments.
President Toomas Hendrik Ilves' adviser Urve Eslas answered Postimees' question whether Ilves plans to return the sum himself in light of new circumstances with a quote from a past interview.
“I feel sorry for the people (Maria Alajõe, Siim Raie, Hanno Tomberg – ed.) who have been made out to be negative characters in the tales of Ärma farm and Ermamaa. To my knowledge, none of them have done anything forbidden or shady, or been somehow swayed. These assumptions, that in places turned into accusations, constitute unfair fiction, nonsense.”