The minister-to-minister makings of a major bribery scandal

Kadri Hansalu
, majandustoimetuse juhataja
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Photo: Liis Treimann

This past decade, many a economy minister has assumed the state overpaid businessman Vjatšeslav Leedo for arranging ferryboat traffic and that the state would do better providing the service itself. As cooperation with the entrepreneur failed, they ended up buying public vessels and have Port of Tallinn act as operator. Turns out, port managers accepted bribes buying the ships and all contracts are to be reviewed. Also, the search is on for a person politically liable.

Meelis Atonen (Reform)

April 2003 – September 2004

Stepped down after 1.5 years as minister having attempted to end Vjatšeslav Leedo’s monopoly in islands-mainland ferryboat traffic. The endeavours proved futile.

Andrus Ansip (Reform)

September 2004 – April 2005

Possessor of the portfolio for eight months, the politician had no time to undertake much when ferryboats were concerned.  

Edgar Savisaar (Centre)

April 2005 – April 2007

In November 2005, proclaimed ferryboat lines carrier procurement. Saaremaa Laevakompanii owning the only ships in the region fit for the purpose, it was obvious from the start that no other company would participate.

The procurement in March 2006 was participated and won by Väinamere Liinid, a subsidiary of Saaremaa Laevakompanii. The yearly subsidy rose from 91 million Estonian kroons to 100 million kroons.

Pursuant to new ten-year carrier contract entered in October 2006, Väinamere Liinid continued operation of mainland-islands ferryboat traffic.

Juhan Parts (IRL)

April 2007 – March 2014

Assured us in September 2013 that by end of 2016 the state would have sufficient number of ships to operate the Saaremaa and Hiiumaa voyages. «We treat the vessels like real estate in a sense, or a part of infrastructure, and then we will be able to arrange operator competition for the ferries,» he said.

At the time, he said there were two options to get the boats: to build them or to buy them. He said that economy ministry enjoyed good cooperation with Vjatšeslav Leedo’s shipping company. It has afterwards been speculated that Mr Parts was in long negotiations to buy the existing and operating ferryboats for the state.  

Urve Palo (Soc Dems)

March 2014 – April 2015

Last year, the government decided that in June the economy and communication ministry would proclaim public procurement for operator of Rohuküla–Heltermaa and Virtsu–Kuivastu ferryboat lines. Thereby, they abandoned the initial plan to obtain ferryboats and arrange ship link publicly. However, according to governmental decision, the state enterprise Port of Tallinn had to also participate at the procurement.

Back then, Ms Palo claimed she realised that the decision to cancel plans by previous government to proclaim a competition to build ships was unpopular, but as minister she was to think long-term.

In September 2014, only Väinamere Liinid participated in the procurement for arranging mainland-islands ferryboat traffic, but failed to qualify. Thus, the ministry decided to launch direct talks with Väinamere Liinid and Port of Tallinn. CEO of the latter Ain Kaljurand said the council told them to hold intensive direct talks to shipowners and ship builders during that month and to present purchase offers of ships to council by September 30th. By the end of the month, Port of Tallinn had secured preliminary agreement to supply four vessels and it was decided to make an offer.

Offers by Port of Tallinn subsidiaries (jointly) and  Väinamere Liinid both qualified. In the middle of the month, the ministry announced the procurement was won by Port of Tallinn offering cheaper prices and better vessels. On October 31st, Port of Tallinn declared it had entered ship building contracts with the enterprises Remontowa Shipbuilding (Poland) and Sefine Shipyard of Turkey.

Kristen Michal (Reform)

Since April 2015

This spring, it turned out that owners were to take current ferryboats to Germany in the fall and will employ older vessels till the contract expires. The minister called Vjatšeslav Leedo to carpet and, after the meeting, said the latter had full rights to seek new work for his ferries realising they would otherwise be standing idle. Meanwhile, the older ferries have meant slower service and long queues for travellers to islands and back.  

On August 26th this year, security police arrested Port of Tallinn managers Ain Kaljurand and Allan Kiil as suspected in accepting bribes. According to public prosecutor Laura Feldmanis, the latter is also suspected in accepting a bribe procuring the ferries. The investigation features cooperation with foreign states including Poland where two of the ferries ordered are under construction. As assured by the incumbent minister, he as minister, the ministry and Port of Tallinn assume responsibility for the ferryboat procurement to be completed on time.

In a little more than a year – on October 2016 – the current 10-year contract runs out and Port of Tallinn is to assume operation of ferryboat traffic between mainland and major islands.