The missing piece of the Ministry of Rural Affairs’ scandal is an August meeting where Conservative People’s Party (EKRE) members Mart Järvik and his adviser Maido Pajo tried to pressure the Agricultural Registers and Information Board (PRIA) to dial back investigations into use of support by certain companies. The meeting concerned support for at least three companies.
The existence of this puzzle piece was hinted at by the ministry’s now dismissed secretary general Illar Lemetti in a letter sent to Prime Minister Jüri Ratas last week. “You probably also know that some very important circumstances have not yet come to light,” Lemetti, who still refuses to release the details to the public, wrote.
Information available to Postimees suggests the entire story revolves around former rural affairs minister Mart Järvik and adviser Maido Pajo’s attempts to interfere in PRIA proceedings ever since the rural affairs portfolio moved into EKRE hands. Soon after taking office, Pajo requested information from PRIA on all ongoing criminal proceedings in terms of when they were launched, who they targeted and over what.
The inquiry came as a shock to PRIA as good practice had seen previous rural affairs ministers distance themselves from individual proceedings to avoid risk of corruption and meddling in the work of agencies. No longer.
“It’s like the days of the People’s Union have returned. (Maido Pajo is a former member of the People’s Union – ed.). A few people have crawled in from under the door [to the minister] and things they say are used to make all manner of generalizations,” a person close to PRIA said. “However, the ministry can only interpret regulations etc. and not make decisions regarding individual cases.”
Pajo was not given information on the nature of criminal proceedings, but the ministry’s interest persisted. Things changed on August 6 this year when Järvik and Pajo summoned head of PRIA Jaan Kallas and several representatives of farmers’ associations for a meeting.
The meeting concerned three companies’ disputes with PRIA. The first of these is already known to the public – the prosecutor’s office suspects the Soosaar family from Pärnu County of benefit fraud. At the heart of the matter is presentation of false data to PRIA, with the agency now demanding return of support sums.
The second dispute concerned a company called Kehtna Mõisa OÜ that PRIA expects to return around €500,000. The third concerns OÜ Kõpu Talu that runs Maria Farm in Pärnu County that failed to qualify for investment support from PRIA.
A turn for the personal
Director General of PRIA Jaan Kallas soon came under pressure from the minister and his adviser at the meeting. Sources say that while Järvik and Pajo did not order PRIA to terminate proceedings regarding these three companies, they urged Kallas to go easy on the farmers. “The criticism was that PRIA was unable to deliberate,” a source said.
“The initial attitude of the minister and the adviser was that PRIA was treating the farmers unfairly. Their message was, to exaggerate a little, that PRIA should not harass farmers,” said Olav Kreen, chairman of the supervisory board of the Estonian Chamber of Agriculture and Commerce, who attended the meeting. “Had I been director of PRIA, I would have felt pressured,” he said. Other sources have given similar descriptions.
PRIA refused to answer Postimees’ questions regarding the meeting. Maido Pajo also refused to comment, only admitting the meeting took place. Mart Järvik did not wish to comment either.
Information of what had transpired at the meeting reached the ministry’s secretary general at the time Illar Lemetti who relayed it to State Secretary Taimar Peterkop in the second half of August, hoping the information would reach PM Jüri Ratas. It did.
“The state secretary notified the PM of a problem regarding alleged meddling in PRIA recovery proceedings. The PM asked minister Mart Järvik about it who denied meddling,” head of the prime minister’s bureau Johannes Merilai said.
This conversation between Ratas and Järvik comes as news after Ratas told the press on Monday he knows nothing about Lemetti’s claims that he had notified the PM. “It is a very interesting observation by Lemetti. It makes me wonder what he knows,” Ratas said at the press conference.
Next, Peterkop asked Ministry of Justice officials for advice and was told that concerned parties should turn to the prosecution. When Ratas ordered Peterkop to put together a committee to investigate Järvik’s conduct the week before last, a recording of the August 6 meeting was among its materials. The information did not make its way into the committee’s report but was forwarded to investigative organs.
“We confirm that the prosecution met with Illar Lemetti in September. Seeing as Lemetti has publicly admitted as much by today, we can confirm he gave us information on several potential violations,” said Olja Kivistik for the Office of the Prosecutor General. The prosecution forwarded the information to the Central Criminal Police and the Estonian Internal Security Service for verification.
Criminal proceedings to look into a potential conflict of interest of Mart Järvik’s other adviser Urmas Arumäe are handled by the criminal police. “We are currently verifying information regarding the ongoing investigation. Should the need arise, separate proceedings will be launched based on new information.”
Entrepreneurs knew Järvik
The farmers PRIA proceedings concerned were no strangers to Mart Järvik. Postimees wrote in November how Järvik and the Soosaars have known each other since childhood. The minister also knew the other two parties to disputes. It is possible to find ties between Järvik and member of the board of Kehtna Mõisa OÜ Märt Riisenberg. “I know him [Mart Järvik],” Riisenberg told Postimees.
“I was chairman of the Kehtna rural municipality council when he was the rural municipality mayor of Järvakandi. But I did not go to him with my troubles,” Riisenberg added. He emphasized he did not approach Järvik several times. “We have tried to keep business separate from politics. It would not end well.”
Master of the Maria Farm Enn Rand said that they sued PRIA recently over failure to pay out support for investments already made over two years.
“We have been treated unfairly,” Rand said. The conversation with Rand reveals that he has talked to Järvik about this perceived injustice. “I have met Mart Järvik. Yes, I did [talk about the PRIA dispute]. He visited the area as minister. He asked what we were building, and I answered him and said we were having problems. We also mentioned it to the previous minister.”
While Rand said he met the minister in summer, he did not specify which month. “Stop tampering, damn it, with Mart Järvik. He is an ordinary Estonian guy. It’s endless political circus. I’m not a member of any party.”