Parliamentarian insists on innocence

Risto Mets
, reporter
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Photo: Margus Ansu

«I am being accused in something which has not been,» MP and former Tartu city council member Urbo Vaarmann (37, Centre Party) told reporters yesterday as he arrived in court.  

«If I were guilty, I’d admitted to it long ago,» stressed Mr Vaarmann, advising the cameramen to go shoot something nice in the nature.

Prosecutor’s office, however, thinks the man broke the law. In addition to Mr Vaarmann – accused in benefit fraud and granting of gratuities – the court will hear OÜ Puhkepesa board member Anatoli Karetin as accused in like crimes, as well as Agricultural Registers and Information Board (PRIA) market management bureau chief specialist Ülle Märss as accused of accepting of gratuities.

Process postponed

A fourth accused, OÜ Avicia board member Oleg Kuzmin was expected to show up; due to being sick, the man could not attend. By Prosecutor’s Office, his firm stands accused of benefit fraud. The court ruled sickness to be good reason to be absent from a hearing, the process thus postponed till next Monday.

Thus we never heard the prosecutor’s opening speech by which the public could have gotten more clarity about the nature of the alleged crime. Up to now, all we know is that from September 2010 till May 2012 PRIA grants were fraudulently applied in order to reconstruct a building in Jõgeva County and to erect external structures on the lot. The application was satisfied and close to €600,000 of support was awarded by PRIA.

The alleged fraud lies in failure to pay self-financing and exaggerating building costs.

According to Central Criminal Police, the applicant was advised by PRIA employee Ülle Märss. Pursuant to the accusation, Ms Märss attempted to speed up payment of a support instalment and misused her official position to leak information regarding the proceedings and payment schedule of the grant.

Of the sum, €100,000 was managed to pay out – in November 2011. The rest of the money was kept back due to the criminal procedure initiated.

Status no haven

By Mr Vaarmann’s lawyer Kaspar Lind, the court received plea by Centre Party parliamentary faction to consider Riigikogu sessions’ schedule while planning court hearings, so Mr Vaarmann might continue his work in parliament while the process is on. «By how narrowly the cohabitation bill was passed last week we see how much depends on every single vote,» underlined Mr Vaarmann.

This the court did not accept. The judge Anneli Tanum concluded court must be equal on all no matter their status in society. Furthermore, law of criminal procedure prescribes no exceptions regarding members of parliament. Also, they will have to consider the time planned for the court sessions, and the right of other participants to undergo court procedure as fast as possible.

The procedure is unhindered by MP immunity which was waived from Mr Vaarmann by Riigikogu this March as advised by Chancellor of Justice Indrek Teder.