The Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications (MKM), the Estonian Foreign Intelligence Service and the Government Office held a series of briefings for members of the Riigikogu on the Electronic Communications Act to explain dangers associated with Chinese telecom giant Huawei. The Monday meeting for Isamaa MPs also hosted former interior minister Marko Pomerants who is not an MP at present but works for PR agency Powerhouse that is lobbying for Huawei in Estonia.
Even though Isamaa Riigikogu group head Priit Sibul and Pomerants maintain the briefing only disseminated public information, spokesperson for MKM Laura Laaster said MPs were given access to information designated for in-house use only. “MPs’ attention was drawn to a corresponding notation during the briefing,” Laaster said.
Marko Pomerants, who works for Huawei, said he asked Sibul if he could attend the meeting and was given the green light.
“I was interested to hear what kind of information government agencies are giving to MPs in connection with the Electronic Communications Act bill. I am an Estonian citizen and I’m sincerely interested. I found the presentation businesslike, honest and relevant. I’m not planning on misusing this opportunity but will rather respect it,” Pomerants said.
Pomerants said he does not know for certain whether MPs where given restricted information during the briefing but believes it could only have been public. “I do not have state secrets clearance. I could not have been in that room even if the information would have been designated for in-house use only,” the former politician said.
The foreign intelligence service pointed to potential Chinese threats in its annual report published last week that also included Huawei. Pomerants agreed that the agency’s information is relevant from its point of view.
“That this report rubs the Chinese embassy the wrong way is also understandable. The report references things Huawei cannot guarantee as a company. Huawei cannot change the Chinese state, that change needs to happen in China first,” Pomerants said.
He said that working for Huawei does not mean he is somehow working against Estonian interests. Powerhouse is not doing anything illegal or anti-Estonian, that would clash with in-house rules,” Pomerants said.
The lobbyist added that while the Riigikogu briefings were not advertised, they were also by no means secret.
“I’ve served as an MP for 16 years and it’s no secret I still have contacts in the parliament. I believe over 100 people had information on the briefings. In addition to MPs, advisers and officials also knew about them,” Pomerants said.
Isamaa faction chair Priit Sibul said he did not see a problem when Pomerants asked to attend the briefing.
“Faction advisers and other guests sometimes participate in parliamentary meetings. Had any information there been for MPs’ eyes only, we would have been told,” Sibul said, adding that he does not know whether any of the information was restricted.
“No one told us anything in advance. Pomerants being there was not seen as problematic, and I’m sure they would have held back some information had it been restricted. Everyone knew that Pomerants was in the room with us and that he is no longer an MP,” Sibul explained.
He added that he cannot say whether the briefing covered anything beyond the foreign intelligence report published last week. “I cannot go into detail as I did not read the report in full. I dare say nothing of the sort was included,” he said.
The foreign intelligence service warned that while Huawei and other Chinese companies might appear as private entities, final control over these firms could rest with Chinese state companies or the government.
Translated by Marcus Turovski.