Chairman of the Center Party, Prime Minister Jüri Ratas said during Riigikogu Question Time on Wednesday, when commenting on the origin of a donation of €50,000 to the party, that had he certainty the donation was of criminal origin, he would resign.
“Had I knowledge of anything criminal regarding that donation today, I would not be standing before you as prime minister – not because of a vote of no confidence, but because I would have resigned. I have no information to suggest there is anything criminal about the donation. There is not as far as I am aware – based on the information I have and the tools at the party's disposal for verifying such things," Ratas said.
The session largely revolved around the Center Party’s financing scandal, transparency of party financing and the coalition’s bill to abolish the Political Parties Financing Surveillance Committee (ERJK).
Ratas said that he has no information to suggest the €50,000 donation made by Jana-Helen Juhaste was criminal in nature and that he would resign as PM otherwise. He said the party decided to return the donation because several questions remained unanswered.
“I believe it is sensible that the ERJK has asked the prosecution to look into this matter. It needs to be verified,” Ratas said.
Questionable aspects included using child support for making a political donation and hints suggesting the original owner of the money, Juhaste’s former partner, has considerable business interests in Center-run Tallinn.
The prime minister said that the Center Party has changed a great deal since he took over in 2016. Ratas added that whether he will remain PM can change either through a vote of no confidence or his own resignation. “I trust the Estonian law enforcement organs. We need to wait for their decisions and take corresponding steps,” Ratas said, adding that the final say belongs to the courts and that litigation could take a very long time. “I hope the answers will be found sooner.”
“Even though red flags should have gone up in January, the Center Party only took action after the ERJK had asked the prosecutor to look into the donation in May. The prime minister’s reaction to these questions was to eliminate the body asking them,” said head of the opposition Reform Party Kaja Kallas.
“Until Jüri Ratas honestly answers the question of what he knew about the money and when, there is no sense in asking him anything else,” Kallas said in terms of why Reform opted to spend most of the session concentrating on Center’s financing scandal.
The Center Party received a €50,000 donation from little-known Tartu businesswoman Jana-Helen Juhaste in January. A lot of questions were raised concerning the origin of the money after the donation was published on the ERJK’s website in April. Eesti Ekspress wrote on June 6 that the money is originally from Juhaste’s ex-partner, a businessman with considerable real estate interests in Tallinn. That is when Center decided to return the money to Juhaste.