Praetoni's 'peace' offer rejected by state

  • 2004-11-17
  • From wire reports
TALLINN - A "settlement fee" of 100 million kroons (6.4 million euros) by Italian businessman Ernesto Preatoni to terminate a criminal case against him has been rejected by the state, the media reported this week.

Preatoni's lawyers and prosecutor Laura Vaik, who specializes in tax-related crimes, had reached a preliminary agreement about 10 days before the hearings began. The contract entailed that the investor, accused of a tax violations to the tune of 50.5 million kroons, would have to pay the state the amount in demand as well as equal that in punishment - or a total of 101 million kroons.

An article under Estonia's Criminal Code states that a person can escape punishment if he or she remedies the damage caused by the criminal offense and invests a certain sum into public coffers and if the case is not deemed part of the public's interest.

Indeed, Preatoni has used the public's lack of interest in proceedings as a basis for his defense, the daily Eesti Paevaleht reported.

The lawyers with whom Preatoni initially agreed to pay the sum by telephone received a written confirmation two days later. But this ultimately turned out to be useless, as the same morning prosecutors declared that Preatoni could not use a lack of public interest as the basis of his defense.

"Termination of proceedings upon lack of public interest is only meant for petty crimes. It can only be applied if such apathy exists in the proceedings and in case the offender's guilt is negligible," Vaik said in justification of her refusal to accept the settlement fee.

"In Preatoni's case, unfortunately, all the circumstances are there. The opportunity of buying oneself out of the crime would not be right in terms of justice," she said.

Vaik has instead offered the defendant the opportunity for an alternative proceeding. In that case, the accused would plead guilty and only remedy damages caused by the crime. Preatoni's punishment would also be agreed on beforehand for only the court to confirm.

Although Preatoni, who has been suffering health problems, had reportedly agreed to plead guilty, his co-defendant, lawyer Aivar Pihlak, 38, was not ready to accept the status of a criminal offender. The Italian businessman's fate could also depend on a recent TV1 tax-fraud case that dealt with tax-evasion on employee wages.

If particular materials belonging to CFO Rait Killandi were separated from those of the other defendants, then the prosecutor's office would rule out such an opportunity in Preatoni's case.

"The proceeding can only be regarded integrally, as the activity of all three defendants is so closely intertwined," Vaik explained to Eesti Paevaleht in response to why Preatoni's materials and those of his assistant, Angelika Annus, could not be separated from Pihlak's file.

Aivar Pihlak's lawyer, Aivar Pilv, however, confirmed that no alternative proceeding had been officially proposed, and that judicial proceedings had already begun.

"The terms of the alternative proceeding were simply unacceptable to us," Pilv said.

In the meantime, Vaik said that she was still interested in an alternative proceeding because Preatoni's case would apparently drag on for years. "At the moment there are no negotiations on that issue in progress," the prosecutor said.