Crime report obstructs professional politician’s path to the Court of Auditors

Brita-Maria Alas
, Eesti uudiste päevatoimetaja
Keit Pentus-Rosimannus (Reform Party).
Keit Pentus-Rosimannus (Reform Party). Photo: Tairo Lutter
  • The minister asked the officials to draft a bill for submitting an anonymous candidate.
  • The prosecutor’s office will decide over the crime report this week.
  • Pentus-Rosimannus mentioned her candidacy already in February.

The timeline of the circumstances leading Keit Pentus-Rosimannus (Reform Party) to the European Court of Auditors suggests that former finance minister Pentus-Rosimannus got fed up with politics and the Court of Auditors was a golden umbrella for her to leave the big game.

As can be seen from the letter and agendas of the ministry's employees, Pentus-Rosimannus was interested in the working process and educational requirements of the member of the Court of Auditors after last year’s meeting with Juhan Parts, a member of the Court of Auditors. For example, how and who finally approves the candidate, what are the specific requirements for the candidate. The member of the Court of Auditors from Estonia is nominated by the minister of finance; therefore the interest could seem natural.

“He was currently in Estonia to present his past year’s work results. In the course of this, it is completely normal that I, as the minister of finance, met with a member of the Court of Auditors”, explained Pentus-Rosimannus, who is currently an official candidate for a member.

Last week there was a setback: after numerous sittings of the anti-corruption select committee of the Riigikogu, chairman Mart Helme (EKRE) submitted a crime report to the prosecutor's office. "The report mainly emphasizes that Pentus-Rosimannus had been aware of her candidacy all the time, did not submit any other candidate and gave information about her candidacy to both Jüri Ratas (Center) and Helir-Valdor Seeder (Isamaa). She systematically worked to ensure that she would be the only candidate and that there were no other candidates,” Helme is convinced.

Ratas knew a long time ago

At the beginning of September, the government announced that it would nominate Pentus-Rosimannus. During the summer coalition talks, the outcome was still open and it was agreed that a candidate would be sought later. “Not a single name was discussed then,” Seeder recalled at the select committee sitting and added that at that time it was not even discussed which party should receive the membership.

The parties of the current coalition heard the name of Pentus-Rosimannus in August, when Kallas started talking to party leaders about supporting her. “I cannot remember the day when the prime minister contacted me and said that she would really like to appoint a candidate for the Court of Auditors at the September 1 sitting,” recalled the leader of the Social Democrats, Lauri Läänemets. “The prime minister said that her candidate was Keit Pentus-Rosimannus.”

However, Ratas recalled that the candidacy of Pentus-Rosimannus had already been discussed in the previous coalition. “Who did we talk to? We talked to Keit first. Keit said that she would be nominated for the post,” said Ratas, adding that Kallas had for support to the minister already at that time, but the Center Party did not give it. Pentus-Rosimannus had already told Ratas at the beginning of the year that she wanted to join the Court of Auditors.

“I have never claimed the opposite,” Pentus-Rosimannus said about it.

The ministry was busy

Helme blames Pentus-Rosimannus for not excusing herself from the process in any way: “She obviously should have done it: I delegate it to the prime minister, let her make the decisions. I asked Kaja Kallas how it is recorded that Pentus-Rosimannus excused herself – there is nothing like that,” he said.

When the Center Party as the coalition partner did not approve Pentus-Rosimannus’ candidacy, the issue seemed to subside for a while. Less than a week after the inauguration of the new government, the stalled issue, on which no agreement had been reached in the coalition, was raised again. “I need a detailed and precise plan before I go on vacation, i.e. before tomorrow evening (what steps are exactly necessary – a draft to the government and that is all? What appendices must be there?),” Pentus-Rosimannus wrote to the employees of the ministry and asked for the bill without the candidate’s name to be drafted. The employees sent the information to the minister, which in turn was later sent to the prime minister. Members of the Court of Auditors with auditor experience were marked in bold in the overview submitted to the minister.

“Furthermore, it must be kept in mind that there is a set of rules available on the European Parliament's website: there are requirements. One of them is previous experience as an auditor,” Helme said. “The fact that some members of the Court of Auditors allegedly do not have it does not mean that the Estonian candidate need not have the experience,” Helme said.

According to e-mails, the materials for submitting a candidate for a member of the Court of Auditors and the anonymous bill prepared at the request of Pentus-Rosimannus were submitted to the prime minister for discussions.

Kruuse recommended the candidate

When the government announced the candidacy of Pentus-Rosimannus at the beginning of September, it was presented by Minister of Rural Affairs Urmas Kruuse (Reform). Helme claims that this was an only superficially correct move. Pentus-Rosimannus was away on business that day and could not have recommended her own candidacy.

According to State Secretary Taimar Peterkop, everything was formally in order according to the rules of nomination for office: "In my opinion, there was no breach of the restriction; it was a political agreement between the chairmen of the political parties. The political will was implemented as a government decision, which is a completely legitimate way. I did not see any substantive or formal violation here,” he told the select committee.

Lawyer Steven Hristo Evestus, a member of the board of Transparency International Estonia, has previously written in the national broadcasting company ERR website that if the minister of finance who is in office at the same time proposes to nominate herself and/or participates in the appointment decision as a member of the government, she would break the restriction. “In order to dispel suspicions, important questions have been raised for the public: who prepared the proposal signed by the minister of rural affairs who was the acting finance minister, and/or on whose order was it done? Did the finance minister stay away from the whole process, or did she try to somehow influence other members of the government?” he reasoned.

The prosecutor's office will decide this week whether proceedings will be started according to the report will be processed or not. According to Helme, the law firm Lextal, which helped EKRE to put together the notice, is of the opinion that there is no other option but to take the notice into proceedings.

Reminder: Parts' candidacy also angered the opposition

In 2016, Juhan Parts, a member of parliament in the Isamaa and Res Publica Union at the time, was nominated as a member of the Chamber of Auditors. The faction of the opposition Center Party already promised a year ago that if the government decides to nominate Parts, who as a minister had problems observing the EU regulations, for the Chamber of Auditors, they would initiate a vote of no confidence against the then prime minister Taavi Rõivas.

Pentus-Rosimannus: the opposition is running its election campaign

Keit Pentus-Rosimannus said on Postimees live broadcast that since this time the appointment of the Chamber of Auditors member took place just before the start of the Riigikogu election campaign, the tension was inevitably built in it. “We can already see how an opposition political force is conducting its election campaign and is simply using this moment to be confrontational in the context of the elections,” she noted.

Steps towards the Chamber of Auditors candidacy

January 2021: Pentus-Rosimannus becomes the minister of finance

December 2021: the minister requests a brief from her staff on the members of the Chamber of Auditors and requirements to them

January–February 2022: the prime minister asks for the minister’s agreement to become a candidate; the finance minister discusses her candidacy with Jüri Ratas

June 2022: Kallas asks for Ratas’ support

June–July 2022: coalition negotiations of the new government

July 2022:​ Pentus-Rosimannus asks for the drafting of an anonymous bill

September 2022: the government nominates the candidate

October 2022:​ Pentus-Rosimannus announces her resignation from politics