TALLINN – The board of Enterprise Estonia has decided to deem 90 percent of the support awarded to the company OU Ermamaa non-eligible for support and to return this amount to the European Commission, as well as to execute the repayment in the amount of roughly 152,000 euros using funds of Enterprise Estonia and to file no further claim against former president Toomas Hendrik Ilves.
There is no sufficient legal basis to file a claim for additional recovery, Enterprise Estonia said. The board chairman of the foundation, Sille Talvet-Unt, said that while no intentional non-compliances were determined, mistakes were identified that had been made in various stages of processing of the Ermamaa project.
"For instance, in fall 2016 Enterprise Estonia could have weighed more carefully whether to declare the decision made in 2012 invalid and to conduct a new more comprehensive analysis already then," Talvet-Unt said.
"Looking at the process as the whole, we can see that the main reason of the mistakes was the project being in every sense unusual. It is a unique situation when the recipient of support is not able to carry out the plans due to assuming the office of president," she said.
Enterprise Estonia said a legal analysis has revealed that there is no sufficient legal basis for filing a claim for additional recovery, and disputing on the matter in a court of law lacks legal prospects. Since it was Enterprise Estonia that erred in determining the size of the claim for recovery, filing an additional claim for recovery would in the present situation lead to a lengthy legal dispute where Enterprise Estonia would not have sufficient legal arguments to arrive at a favorable decision. Paying the required amount using own funds, Enterprise Estonia is avoiding a legal dispute that in great probability will continue for a long period of time and will entail unpredictable legal costs.
"We consulted with the supervisory board of Enterprise Estonia and several experts to arrive at the best solution. While we regret the situation, we have learned our lesson and we now made a decision which is legally correct and final," Talvet-Unt said. "We have examined this in depth as a whole and hope that we can deem disputes on this subject resolved."
OU Ermamaa, a company owned at the time by Toomas Hendrik Ilves's wife Evelin Ilves, received 190,393 euros in support from EU structural funds in 2006. The total size of the project the structural fund support for which was granted via Enterprise Estonia was 380,786 euros and its aim was to develop the Arma tourist farm situated in Viljandi County, South Estonia. In connection with Toomas Hendrik Ilves becoming president of Estonia, the obligation to use the property for the intended purpose was suspended until the completion of the president's term in office.
At the request of the recipient of the support, the board of Enterprise Estonia decided on March 30, 2012 that fulfilment of the original business plan must resume from Jan. 1, 2017 at the latest and continue through July 31, 2020, and that if this is not done the recipient of the support must pay back 10 percent of the support. OU Ermamaa notified Enterprise Estonia of its intention not to resume fulfillment of the business plan and paid back the said amount on Oct. 12, 2016.
In accordance with an administrative procedure started in November last year, Enterprise Estonia will return to the European Commission 80 percent of the support or 152,314 euros.