Prime Minister Jüri Ratas resigns amid property project financing scandal

Photo: Mihkel Maripuu / Postimees

After a meeting of the board of the Center Party that lasted many hours, Jüri Ratas announced his resignation as the prime minister of Estonia in the early hours of Wednesday, public broadcaster ERR and Postimees reported.

In a statement to journalists, Ratas expressed his gratitude for the possibility to serve Estonia in his capacity as the prime minister for four years, help improve the standard of living in Estonia and strengthen Estonia's international standing.

"And, in politics, also very difficult choices have to be made to resolve difficult situations. A politician has to be ready for it," Ratas told journalists at Toompea. 

He said that the decision to resign was made after consultations with fellow members of the party that lasted for more than 14-15 hours.

"This decision, as I said, was made as a result of consultations with the board of the Estonian Center Party, fellow members of the party group, closest people in my post. And while there definitely would be different solutions, only one of them seemed to be right," Ratas said.

"The suspicions lodged by the Office of the Prosecutor General today do not yet mean that someone is definitely guilty, but they inevitably cast a serious shadow on all the parties involved. In such situation, giving, through my resignation, a possibility to shed light on all circumstances and achieve clarity seems the only right thing to do. Under conditions of political and societal calm. I am convinced that the investigating authorities will do their work professionally and without bias and will establish the definitive truth also in this case," Ratas said.

Ratas said that he was not informed about the dubious financing of Porto Franco in any way.

"Despite taking political responsibility, I can say with full peace of mind that as the prime minister, I have not made a single malevolent or knowingly wrong decision. Today, I have communicated with both the prosecutor general and the Internal Security Service, who both affirmed that they have no suspicions with regard to myself. As the head of government, I did not feel in the Porto Franco case either that some minister or political party had tried to influence the decisions made by the government in an unlawful direction," Ratas said, adding that the decision to lend was made on the basis of a proposal made by Kredex and the terms and conditions of said loan were altogether comparable with those of the decision made with regard to Tallink, for instance. 

"As the chairman of the Center Party, I can also affirm with absolute sincerity that I have never made or approved of any action undermining justice or the sense of justice when leading the party. Of course, as the chairman of the party, I also must bear responsibility for this issue to be resolved in an unambiguous, clear and just manner," Ratas said in conclusion of his remarks.

The governing board of the Center Party gathered on Tuesday evening to discuss the situation that has arisen after the party was declared suspect in a criminal investigation related to the financing of the Porto Franco property development project in the Tallinn port area. 

The Office of the Prosecutor General has declared five persons and the Center Party suspects in the criminal investigation related to Porto Franco. The five persons include Mihhail Korb, who has since resigned as secretary general of the Center Party, Kersti Kracht, adviser to the minister of finance, and businessman Hillar Teder. The Center Party is suspected of influence peddling.

Teder is suspected of bribe-giving and Kracht of influence peddling. Korb is suspected of a second degree crime. The names of the remaining suspects have not been disclosed.