Financing scandal investigation stains Pevkur

Hanno Pevkur.

PHOTO: Eero Vabamägi / Postimees

Recently declassified criminal files of the Reform Party’s financing fiasco point to involvement of current Chairman Hanno Pevkur in the so-called plastic bag scandal. Pevkur refers to statements given by businessman Mairo Kiho as fiction.

“The Reform Party’s financial affairs were the domain of the secretary general. I suggest you take these questions to Kristen Michal,” Pevkur wrote in his reply to Postimees.

The chairman was pointing to the recently declassified investigation file that suggests he might have known more about the party’s shady financing mechanism during the Silvergate scandal than recently believed.

Legislation on demand

Businessman Mairo Kiho gave specific statements, when interrogated by the Public Prosecutor’s Office five years ago, of how he and business partner Marek Leenurm wanted to buy a suitable packaging excise duty act with the help of then Riigikogu Environment Committee member Kalle Palling (Reform Party) for 20,000 kroons. The businessmen allegedly asked Leenurm’s former schoolmate Pevkur whether the money that was given to Palling in three installments had reached the party. Kiho claimed Pevkur confirmed that “the money has reached the pot”.

Pevkur admitted being acquainted with Leenurm but denied any kind of involvement with so-called plastic bag money. Leenurm, who has now fallen out with his former business partner Kiho, echoed Pevkur’s claim.

The five-year internal use only restriction of the criminal investigation materials of the Reform Party’s financing scandal expired on October 15. Pevkur’s Reform Party found considerable success at local elections held on the same day.

The now public criminal files reveal that the notation XXX behind a name in a regulation made public in the fall of 2012 refers to Pevkur. He was mentioned by Kiho in connection with to suspicions against the latter’s former business partner Marko Leenurm.

Leenurm was one of the five suspects in the Reform Party financing investigation, next to then secretary general Kristen Michal, MPs Kalev Lillo and Kalle Palling, and Priit Kallas, adviser to the foreign minister at the time.

Kiho said during the interrogation five years ago that he and business partner Leenurm gave the Reform Party 20,000 kroons in cash through Riigikogu Environment Committee member Kalle Palling in late 2009. In exchange, the MP was to influence draft legislation on biodegradable packaging to benefit Kiho and Leenurm.

Kiho said that he and Leenurm wanted to be sure the money had reached the Reform Party. He claims to have heard Leenurm call Pevkur after the money had been handed over to ask whether it had arrived twice. Pevkur, who was a member of the party’s board and social minister at the time, had supposedly said “the money has reached the pot” on both occasions.

The prosecution did not manage to prove Palling had influenced the package excise duty act in a way to benefit the businessmen in the committee. The Riigikogu refused to hand over recordings of

committee sittings as it maintained that the parliament’s right to perform its constitutional functions without interruption outweighs the interests of the investigation.

The prosecution analyzed the Package Excise Duty Act but failed to identify provisions that would have benefitted Leenurm and Kiho.

Kiho, who agreed to give statements willingly after the Silvergate scandal broke out, did not make a secret of the fact he was motivated to testify against Palling out of bitterness. The ruling on termination of criminal proceedings reads that Kiho feels Palling is responsible for his financial troubles. Palling supposedly maintained a negative attitude toward Kiho because of his prior punishments for illegal logging.

Triumvirate of denial

Pevkur now said that he does not know why Kiho made such claims five years ago. The Reform Party chairman said that nothing of the sort could have been possible as he had no way of making sure whether the money had been transferred to the party’s bank account.

Marko Leenurm also denies events as described by Kiho. He recalled that his relationship with Kiho soured at one point and said it is possible that was his motive for the statements.

“We were business partners. I do not remember the reason exactly; it is probable business relations didn’t work out. I do not want to throw stones at anyone; our relationship is a personal matter and is between the two of us,” Leenurm said. He added that he last met with Kiho five or six years ago.

Leenurm said that Kiho’s statements should not be taken seriously as he is an untrustworthy person whose past hides several criminal punishments.

Palling has denied suspicions. He refused to give statements during the investigation.

Palling told Postimees yesterday that he has perceived Kiho’s statements as untrustworthy from the first. “I’m glad the thorough investigation confirmed as much,” he said.