Estonian rural affairs minister says didn't know of adviser's possible interest conflict

Mart Jarvik told journalists on Friday evening that he had no idea about his adviser Urmas Arumae's potential conflict of interests.

PHOTO: Eero Vabamägi/Postimees

Estonian Minister of Rural Affairs Mart Jarvik told journalists on Friday evening that he had no idea about his adviser Urmas Arumae's potential conflict of interests.

Jarvik told the media on Friday evening that he had no idea about his adviser Urmas Arumae's potential conflict of interests and had no reason to doubt Arumae's trustworthiness.

Jarvik did not wish to comment on the situation in greater detail as he had started his return journey from China on Friday morning, Estonian time. "I will meet with everyone at the end of the week and will then be able to comment," the minister said.

Jarvik affirmed that he has not lied to the public. "If something is misunderstood, it is not conscious lying," he said.

The North District Prosecutor's Office on Wednesday launched criminal proceedings regarding Urmas Arumae, adviser of Minister of Rural Affairs Mart Jarvik, to determine whether Arumae has a conflict of interests or not.

Saskia Kask, chief prosecutor at the North District Prosecutor's Office, told Postimees that the prosecutor's office is checking whether lawyer Arumae has violated the law by giving advice to the minister regarding the activity of the agricultural registers and information board PRIA, which is within the area of administration of the minister, while simultaneously working as the lawyer of the defense in a criminal procedure where PRIA, as the injured party, must stand for the use of public money.

"After familiarizing ourselves with the requested documents, we will decide over the further course of the proceedings. No one has been served suspicion of crime at present," Kask added.

The news portal of public broadcaster ERR reports that according to documents at the disposal of ERR's Pealtnagija investigative journalism program, there is sharp opposition brewing between the Ministry of Rural Affairs and PRIA. In essence, PRIA is complaining that Arumae is preventing them from processing companies he has previously represented as a lawyer.

According to ERR, the issue at the center of the opposition is a larger EU support fraud in the last few years. In it, the prosecutor's office suspected eight legal persons of benefit fraud, which entailed knowingly submitting false data to PRIA in order to receive greater investment support. According to information available to ERR, the size of PRIA's right of recourse is over 1.1 million euros. The lawyer who defended the suspects was sworn advocate Urmas Arumae.

However, on May 3, Arumae became the external legal adviser of Minister of Rural Affairs Mart Jarvik, with a monthly salary of 3,100 euros. While working as the adviser, Arumae also continued representing the entrepreneurs suspected of deceiving PRIA. Although Arumae claims that he withdrew himself already in spring and the clients are being represented by another lawyer of his office, then in reality, he continued with the work as the minister's adviser.

On Sept. 10, PRIA director general Jaan Kallas sent a letter to the Ministry of Rural Affairs in which he said that PRIA believes that there may be a risk of Arumae having a conflict of interests.

TOP