The prosecutor’s office has launched an inquiry whether Urmas Arumäe, who became the legal advisor of Minister of Rural Affairs Mart Järvik (EKRE) this spring, has been breaking the law by figuratively sitting on two chairs at the same time.
As it happens, the Agricultural Registers and Information Board (PRIA) believes that Minister Järvik’s legal advisor Arumäe obstructs them from dealing with enterprises he used to represent as their lawyer.
The whole case is about one of the largest EU subsidy frauds of recent years. Eight legal entities are suspected of deliberately submitting false information to PRIA. According to national public broadcasting firm ERR, the PRIA recourse amounts to 1.1 million euros, and the suspects’ defender was Urmas Arumäe.
However, in early May he became the legal advisor of Minister Järvik. He is not listed among the ministry employees, but he has concluded an agreement on providing legal advice.
According to the agreement at Postimees disposal, the bureau in the person of Arumäe provides advice to Minister Järvik on legal matters and represents him in court if necessary. The fee for monthly services is up to 3,100 euros plus VAT.
After becoming the minister’s advisor, Arumäe informed PRIA that he retracts himself from the criminal case to prevent a conflict of interest.
Yet the PRIA documents claim the opposite: two months after becoming the minister’s advisor Arumäe sent an application to PRIA from his law office mail address asking to reduce the claim against his clients.
According to ERR, PRIA’s patience ran out in September when they as the injured party of the case had to submit the claim which required a power of attorney signed by the minister, but Järvik failed to sign the document. The suspects’ representatives are now appealing to PRIA to retract the damages claim, citing the absence of the minister’s signature.
For this reason, Jaan Kallas, director general of PRIA, sent a letter to the Ministry of Rural Affairs on September 10 informing them of a possible conflict of interest. “I cannot say why Minister Järvik did not sign the document. You have to ask him,” Illar Lemetti, secretary general of the ministry told Postimees last night.
Secretary General Lemetti was the one who received the PRIA letter in September. “I informed the minister the very next day that PRIA reports a possible conflict of interest and also cited the content of the letter,” Lemetti said.
As far as the secretary general knows, the minister has also discussed the issue with Arumäe. “You have to ask the minister what they were talking about,” he said. “I have been in contact with the PRIA director general and I am certain that PRIA has not been the subject of any influence.”
When asked to specify the influence, Lemetti answered: “I mean that PRIA operates as an independent payment institution and certainly had not allowed to be influenced by correspondence with Mr. Urmas Arumäe.”
Mart Järvik, who is on a visit to China, was not available for comment yesterday. The PRIA representatives did not comment the issue either. Arumäe also remained unavailable.
Järvik’s PR advisor Mart Ummelas was also unable to contact the minister yesterday, but he assured that Arumäe had also advised the minister in connection with the listeria scandal. As far as Ummelas recalled, the meeting had taken place in the second half of October, i.e. after Lemetti had informed the minister of the possible conflict of interest reported by PRIA.