The scandal long feared laid bare

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Photo: Erik Prozes

Yesterday's bombshell about bribes accepted by Edgar Savisaar was actually supposed to explode in winter when all evidence gathered over half year of thorough preliminary investigation were fixed in Security Police. 

Back then, the news went unpublished as before parliamentary elections it could have been interpreted as intrusion into politics by security police. Reaction by Russian speaking and Russian minded electorate to the mayor’s arrest was impossible to predict. Wisdom dictated to avoid the mess.  

Thus, the initial searches – which will bring the proceeding into public – were postponed till spring. Again, the step got postponed as the main hero was hospitalised in critical condition. While Edgar Savisaar was fighting for his life in Tartu University Hospital, security police kept fingers crossed he would make it. Why? By his sudden death, Mr Savisaar would have cancelled out years of labour and toil by lots of people and left the givers of bribes unpunished.

During the peak, four separate proceedings were underway regarding Mr Savisaar in various departments of the agency. Kapo – short for security police – had attempted to gain access to Mr Savisaar’s secret financial affairs in Switzerland and elsewhere abroad, but encountered several obstacles. Now, they figured they had gotten hold of «real» things which were unearthed by surveillance in Estonia and for which a definite criminal case had been initiated at Office of the Prosecutor General on June 17th.

Intense and lengthy surveillance

By eavesdropping on telephone calls, the investigators were aware who and when Mr Savisaar met and what to keep in mind while collecting evidence. The investigators were aware that dark matters are not discussed over the phone, and that plain speech would be avoided if at all possible.  

Here is where hidden cameras are helpful, installed by court permission. However, even these are in danger to be discovered. Especially with Mr Savisaar, as the all-suspecting Mayor of Tallinn is in the habit of asking people close to him «bug control» places linked to him from time to time. Therefore, Kapo was at pains to diligently plan where and for how long to install stuff.

So this is what Kapo was busy with from summer to winter of 2014. Involved in the investigations were its corruption unit and Tallinn department staff.  

To charge Mr Savisaar in court, prosecutor’s must possess strong evidence indeed. Stronger than a bribe asked in his office by a Tallinn city official who opened the drawer, demonstrated its emptiness, and patted his head with three fingers. Thus were €30,000 of bribes asked for.

Kapo had considered this, having been busy catching Mr Savisaar since the Eastern Money Scandal of 2010, if not before. Key words being businessmen helping him and the city of Tallinn, Swiss accounts, extensive bribes.

The temptation in Kapo to be decisively forceful at times was tempered by the cautious prosecutors fearful to lose in court and be publicly condemned.

Favourites vanished

Money, power and pretty girls are Mr Savisaar’s three weaknesses. All these years he sailed the seas of life and politics avoiding the reefs, but these past few years things begun to go wrong. When he lost trust in his inner circle and begun to act himself.

In the city government, it was deputy mayor Mihhail Kõlvart who lost the trustee position in the middle of last year. The party secretary-general Priit Toobal, at Mr Savisaar’s bedside in spring, is not looked favourably upon any longer.  Surrounding himself with Siret Kotka and his son Erki, Mr Savisaar has managed the money on his own. «And as he begins to move money himself, sooner or later he makes a mistake,» noted a person who knows Mr Savisaar well.

Of such «sloppiness», yesterday’s operation by Kapo and prosecutors was direct proof. All evidences and criminal episodes contained in the criminal case fall between summer of 2014 and the beginning of this year. The real litmus test, the truth, will be faced at court.  

For the grand operation, Tuesday was befitting as all suspects were in Estonia. To get Mr Savisaar, they went to his home at Hundisilma Farmhouse where he had planned to spend forenoon. In the mayor’s official schedule, the first work-related meeting was only at 3 pm with Riho Rõõmus, director of Tallinn song festival grounds. What also never happened were the planned ski association meeting, as well as work related discussions with city secretary Toomas Sepp and deputy mayor Taavi Aas whose office security police also searched yesterday.

In this case Mr Aas is not a suspect while his domain covers the projects regarding which Mr  Savisaar may have received the bribe. While Kapo was searching city government, Mr Savisaar had to answer questions by security police investigators touching accepting of bribes of hundreds of thousands of euros. «In high likelihood, we will not apply for him to be arrested,» said Attorney-General Lavly Perling.

«Mercy» was also shown by prosecutor’s office towards the others suspected in giving and arranging of bribe.

Among the seven well-known suspects, former «star politician» Villu Reiljan is worst off as one under conditional criminal sentence from the lands-swap process. If found guilty again, Mr Reiljan will be physically behind bars for three years and a half.