«I'm sitting like in an armoured train,» Port of Tallinn deputy head Allan Kiil told an acquaintance who wondered how the daredevil dealings at harbour lead to no trouble. Enjoying the favour of Reform inner circle, Mr Kiil never imagined the train's end station might be jailhouse.
Having interviewed dozens of people linked to the ferryboat procurement, Postimees discovered not only the fingerprints of Mr Kiil but of power parties as well. The information obtained from several sources speaks plain: Reform Party members sitting in port council met with Vjatšeslav Leedo from whom they allegedly asked money in connection with ferry lines competition.
To get the picture, we need to travel back in time for 1.5 years when IRL left the government leaving the tandem of Reform and Soc Dems. Then, it was publicly discussed what a dream coalition that was for Mr Leedo and that the competition was his to lose.
Why? Firstly, Mr Leedo’s long time friends Ain Seppik and Kalle Laanet are active in Reform. Secondly, then Soc Dems secretary-general Indrek Saar is son of Jüri Saar, a veteran Saare County governor.
Perfect combination. Failure at the competition looked impossible. And yet, for Mr Leedo everything collapsed with the ferryboats traffic.
«I pay nothing to no party,» the businessman told Postimees in an interview a few weeks ago. «As to our professionalism, we need to show it by work – not by money given into politics. That, in this story, was the most important thing.»
Squirrel and soc dems interests
These sentences by Mr Leedo are extremely meaningful. A few weeks of background search and talking to inner circle people finally yielded a concrete picture: power parties played ship lines operation into Port of Tallinn hands for the very fact that they never got the desired money from Mr Leedo. Such conversations with the businessman have been confirmed to Postimees by several sources.
In a word: while the ferryboat lines destiny was yet undecided, two «top» Reformers visited Saaremaa – Port of Tallinn chairman Remo Holsmer and council member Kalev Lillo.
Afterwards, they also met in Tallinn but allegedly the talk was the same: they asked support for the party, or offered the option to find him a partner. «Perhaps it is hard for you to do business alone? Perhaps you need a partner?» Something like that.
«Will you be my partner?» asked Mr Leedo. «I can also be useful,» was the reply. The main interest was the party being supported financially. They say the figure was seven digits.
Reform was not alone seeking the money. A day before the end of the ferryboat competition, Mr Leedo and then Soc Dems secretary-general Indrek Saar met in Pärnu. And departed without reaching an agreement.
After that, Mr Leedo hit a wall regarding further competition. Also, the idea suggested to economy ministry by him and the ferryboats co-owner Olav Miil – buy the ferries out from private owners – found no favour at political level.
From Mr Leedo’s point of view, the thing was clearly political. As alleged to Postimees by the businessman, the new system will be dearer by a quarter to the taxpayer in the end result. He may be right, though the scarce figures shared with the public fail to explicitly show that. The total costliness of the endeavour is said to be in the side projects, he says.
The new ferryboat operator contract with Port of Tallinn carries opportunities for new «sucker companies». Examples abound. Thus, the logistics businessman Tõnis Pohla now suspected in bribing port managers bought the shipping firm Kihnu Veeteed from Rein Kilk, some time ago.
In May, however, Port of Tallinn chairman Mr Holsmer hinted to party buddies of the opportunity to take the selfsame Kihnu Veeteed as new operator.
Norwegians left out
Economically speaking, what is incomprehensible is the flurry around ticket sales system. It is said Mr Leedo offered Port of Tallinn his faultless system for €400,000. The state company said they will have a new and better system and they entered a €1m contract to get it.
Take designing of the vessels. In November 2014, a Norwegian company Fiskerstrand had recourse to the ministry, wondering why they could not participate in the ship building process with a bid.
The Norwegians are well acquainted with the Nordic conditions, having built all Mr Leedo’s new vessels. «We built and designed the vessels specifically for the conditions of your waters and we have heard that they are a blessing. Why didn’t Estonia offer us the opportunity to participate in the procurement?» asked the Norwegians. The reply by finance ministry was so round as to say nothing.
The project abounds with incomprehensible management decisions. It’s another matter if all what we just described is provable in court, retrospectively. Who wants to testify, in court, against the ruling power party?
Postimees publishes the story motivated by overwhelming public interest.
Leedo: I have met these people
Postimees asked Vjatšeslav Leedo if, related to ferryboat competition, he had private meetings with Remo Holsmer, Kalev Lillo and Indrek Saar, and whether at these meetings they talked about supporting parties with money. To the question, we added the description we had been given about dialogue between Mr Leedo and the Reformers at port council. Mr Leedo sent a written reply: «I have met with tens if not hundreds of people and I have been proposed all kinds of things. I have also discussed various topics with the persons mentioned above. I have affirmed and also via the media that it makes no sense making suspicious suggestions to me. There is only one person whose suggestions I always must accept and this is my own wife!»
Holsmer’s denial turns into a «yes» and then a threat
In telephone conversation with Postimees, Port of Tallinn chairman Remo Holsmer initially denied meeting Mr Leedo. After a few sentences, however, he admitted that the meeting with Saaremaa Laevakompanii did take place. That, he said, was within a routine outing of the Riigikogu faction. Accusations of asking for money are not true, said Mr Holsmer, but he only agreed to answer written questions. An hour later, instead of a reply, Postimees got a letter from Mr Holsmer containing juridical pretexts why this article should not be published.
Saar: I have naturally met Mr Leedo
Indrek Saar, a social democrat: Naturally I have met with Mr Leedo and we also talked about the ferryboat competition while the whole thing was going on. As I have said before, it is out of the question that I would not talk to a person from Saaremaa whom I know from earlier times. But talking about money: if we would talk such talk, we would break the law. Such stuff cannot be. Such stuff has a definite name: influence peddling. If those that claim such stuff cannot prove it, it’s defamation.
Kalev Lillo proved elusive for Postimees to contact, yesterday, despite hours of trying.