Charges reveal Savisaar's secret life

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Photo: Uurimistoimikud

One of the most thrilling reads of recent years, Edgar Savisaar's criminal file, reveals how things were done in the capital during Savisaar's time in the mayor's office. The most telling example is construction tycoon Aivar Tuulberg's bribery affair.

Businessman Tuulberg walked into Savisaar's office a mere month before the March 2015 Riigikogu elections. The men engaged in a conversation in the back room. “Two questions right away. How are the Culture Cauldron preparations coming? Ribbon cutting?” Tuulberg asked.

Savisaar: “I should be asking you, I'm not the...”

The two infamous participants of the above conversation definitely had things to hide. Two months prior, Tuulberg had handed Savisaar, a personal acquaintance, €50,000 in cash in that very office, which episode is the reason Savisaar is today charged with accepting a bribe from Tuulberg.

Those €50,000 had come to Savisaar in exchange for the city making sure Tallinn Culture Cauldron's renovation procurement went the way of the joint bid by Astlanda Ehitus and Rand & Tuulberg AS.

The procurement had initially been won by another bidder; however, Tuulberg's camp contested the decision on November 3, 2014. A day later Tuulberg asked Savisaar to order the head of the Culture Cauldron, Väino Sarnet, to remove the bid of the initial winner.

Tuulberg believed the bid did not match the entrepreneur's prior works. Savisaar promised to help Tuulberg and sort out the problem. The winning bid was dropped two weeks later, on November 17.

Another month, and the procurement was handed to Tuulberg's camp for €3,146,664 plus VAT. Tuulberg then withdrew €50,000 in cash from his Nordea bank account at 3.22 p.m. on December 9 and took it straight to Edgar Savisaar towards the end of the working day.

The recurring figure in Savisaar's case is businessman Alexander Kofkin. A man whose interests in the capital's catering and hotel business received considerable help from the mayor. Savisaar received different gratuities in return, both financial and intimate.

Savisaar's favor as mayor was to make sure the city would rent premises in Tallinn's Town Hall Square to Kofkin's Estkompexim Toitlustus OÜ. Kofkin's company had been the tenant of the property since 2002.

Kofkin wanted Savisaar to help him extend the rent contract for ten years instead of the regular five during a meeting at the Balaika restaurant of Kofkin's Meriton hotel on March 14, 2014.

Three months later, Kofkin returned to the subject during another meeting in the restaurant: “I have a major request to make… You suspended that thing prior to elections… In a few months, well half a year… the Town Hall Square contract will expire, it needs to be extended. Can I file for that now?”

Savisaar obliged Kofkin and ordered Deputy Mayor Eha Võrk to have the bill for the extension of the rent contract put on the city government's agenda for August 6 of the same year.

Savisaar also organized the 38th INTA (International Urban Development Association) congress on January 25-27, 2015 in Kofkin's Meriton Conference and Spa Hotel, even though the event was initially scheduled to take place in Viru Hotel.

The latter was agreed with Kofkin during another meeting in the Balaika on October 22, 2014. Kofkin brought up the €70,000 INTA conference scheduled to be hosted by the Viru Hotel, and said he would like to organize it in his hotel instead. Savisaar agreed and ordered Deputy Mayor Taavi Aas to see to it. The grand conference was held in the Meriton.

In exchange Kofkin paid for Savisaar and his girlfriend Siret Kotka's vacation to Spain. It included first class round tickets, accommodation in the Guadalpin hotel in Marbella, and curative treatments in the Centro Medico health spa.

However, that was not the only way Savisaar accepted bribes from Kofkin. Charges suggest that a clandestine meeting with a woman named Natalia took place in a room in the Meriton hotel between 3 p.m. and 4.15 p.m. on January 17, 2015. The room was later paid for by Kofkin, in cash. The Public Prosecutor's Office and the security police interpret the incident as a case of a bribe being offered and accepted.

Properties and houses

Charges also include mediation activities by Savisaar's friend, former politician Villu Reiljan in trying to retroactively legalize the construction of the private residence of his employer at the time Vello Kunman's daughter at Sihi 108 in Nõmme borough.

The Tallinn City Planning Department had ordered the contractor to immediately cease construction work not in accordance with plans on December 10 and 22, 2014. Reiljan came to see Savisaar about the issue on December 15 and communicated Kunman's request to allow construction work to go ahead at Sihi 108 despite violation of the building permit. Savisaar agreed to give the order and was promised €20,000 for the Center Party in return.

Criminal charges also concern tycoon Hillar Teder, whom Savisaar promised to organize the swap of a property at Mäekalda 14 for a 2,600-square-meter city plot at Koidula 34a. The latter is a valuable piece of real estate near Tallinn's desirable Kadriorg Park.

According to charges, Savisaar met with the Center Party's financial secretary Kalev Kallo in his office on January 16, 2015. The latter informed the mayor of Teder's request to swap properties in exchange for support for the party.

Kallo allegedly made an agreement with deputy mayors Taavi Aas and Eha Võrk. Teder organized a €275,000 loan to Center Party campaign master Paavo Pettai's Midfield OÜ through his son.

The money was used to settle the Center Party's debts of €85,243 for the 2013 local elections campaign, €11,049 for the 2014 European Parliament elections campaign, and €138,306 spent on the 2015 parliamentary elections.

Four days after the loan had been issued, Teder met with Savisaar in the latter's office and handed him a written application for the swapping of properties. Savisaar promised to launch proceedings, ordering Deputy Mayor Eha Võrk to put things in motion, the charges read.

Major sums in Switzerland

These are the bribery cases of the criminal investigation. A substantial part of the file concerns money laundering committed by Savisaar using the Swiss Cantrade Private Bank (later Julius Bär & Co AG) where he maintained a bank account registered to Arsai Investments Ltd.

Savisaar is now charged with hiding €191,570 he kept in the account, as well as conversion and use of €173,550 with the purpose of hiding the money's illegal origin. According to charges, Savisaar opened an account in the name of Arsai Investments Ltd. (registered to the British Virgin Islands) already on March 25, 1997. The person entitled with financial rights of account no. 0218.1731 was none other than Savisaar himself.

On August 10, 2007, €191,570 from Kofkin landed in the account. The generous transaction was meant to secure the businessman with the following city government decisions: Tallinn had to organize a competition aimed at Estkompexim, the city would not stop the company from installing sales kiosks without building permits or hinder their officially unauthorized business activity and agree to coordinate applications and permits retroactively.

To make the payment to the Swiss bank account, Kofkin requisitioned the help of representative of Algel Familienstiftung in Lichtenstein, Israel Gendlin, whose account was used to make the transaction described as a “loan”.

Several real estate and business projects with ties to Kofkin took off in Tallinn at the same time. Kofkin's Konga Invest was authorized to reconstruct a property at Pikk 29 / Lai 24 and Pikk 33 in Tallinn Kofkin had bought for 53.5 million kroons. The property was issued a building permit on the same day Kofkin filed for it.

The period also saw the extension of Kofkin's Meriton Conference and Spa Hotel and a five-year rent contract for city property in Tallinn's Town Hall Square for Kofkin.

The Public Prosecutor's Office concludes that the aforementioned episodes include elements of accepting of bribes. Savisaar later used €173,073 of the money he received from Kofkin to perform financial obligations in his divorce from former wife Vilja Savisaar.

The money was made legal as a loan taken from the company Bravotex, owned by the sons of Savisaar's long-time companion-in-arms Ain Seppik. Savisaar used a shell company registered in far-away Panama, Pipa Business Corporation, to repay the loan by transferring €185,000 from his Swiss account under “loan repayment” ten days later. The Panama company therefore made €12,000 on mediation.

Savisaar refused to give statements during the preliminary investigation, referring to charges using only a single word: absurd. The security police found €186,000 and 300,000 Estonian kroons when searching his home.