TALLINN - An argument arose this week as to whom should be liable for the massive theft of the state's strategic grain reserve that was uncovered earlier this year.
The State Audit Office issued a statement on Aug. 24 claiming that members of the council of the Estonian Grain Board, who were responsible for monitoring the strategic reserves, should compensate the loss.
The auditors proposed that Agriculture Minister Ester Tuiksoo consider holding accountable the council members who neglected their duties and thus caused large-scale damage to the state.
Nearly 15,000 tons of grain, worth in all some 28 million kroons (1.8 million euros), were stolen from the country's strategic security reserve in 2003 - 2004. Of that amount, 14,079 tons were stolen from Rakvere Granary, 362.7 tons from Tamsalu Mills and 481.5 tons from Jogeva Granary, the audit discovered.
"It was characteristic of the activity of the council at the time that the council endorsed all proposals by the management of the Estonian Grain Board without discussing any matters in depth, conducting inventories and checking the credibility of grain storage operators," Juri Korge, chief of the action risk audit division at the State Audit Office, said.
"The ministry failed to adequately evaluate the risks of storers of grain. In this way grain was delivered for storage also to tax debtors and companies on the brink of bankruptcy," the auditors said in their statement.
Also, the Grain Board bought grain at a price higher than the market price, allegedly to support domestic producers, the auditors said.
However, Tuiksoo said on Aug. 24 that he disagreed with the auditors' proposal.
"I agree with the position of the State Audit Office that the attitude of members of the council of the Estonian Grain Board toward their work has been surprisingly lax," Agriculture Minister Ester Tuiksoo said. "[But] the damage caused to the state should be paid first and foremost by the party that caused the damage - that is, by the perpetrator or perpetrators of the theft."
At the same time, he reminded that a criminal investigation has been opened, and that a final decision could be made only after the investigation has been completed and a determination of which lineup of the supervisory council of the Estonian Grain Board is liable and to what extent it should share responsibility for the loss.