Estonians pass sugar buck

  • 2005-01-26
  • From wire services
TALLINN - Reports have begun to surface that Estonia, which has been hit with a large fine for stockpiling excess sugar prior to EU accession, is actually being punished for the ambitious export policies of a handful of Latvian and Lithuanian companies.

Former Agriculture Minister Jaanus Marrandi told the SL Ohtuleht daily that at least one Lithuanian company increased Estonia's fine by cranking up the country's warehouse reserves. At the end of April, just days before accession, a Lithuanian company imported 7,400 tons of Belarusian sugar to Estonia, with the potential profit amounting to more than 30 million kroons (1.9 million euros), Marrandi said.

He did not rule out that there could actually have been more sugar belonging to Lithuanian firms in Estonia.

The daily Postimees, reporting on eyewitness accounts from the border town of Valga, claimed that a large amount of the sugar imported before accession was taken back across the border to Latvia. "No one probably knows how much sugar passed into Valka, but I could see myself that dozens of people crossed the border with sacks of sugar," said Valga Mayor Margus Lepik. Valka is the smaller, Latvian-half of the divided city.

As a result, many Latvians are now consuming sugar for which Estonia might have to pay a fine of up to 51 million euros, the Postimees pointed out.

According to EU regulations, stockpiling commodities prior to accession is a finable offense.

Ene Maadvere, an Agriculture Ministry official, said that Estonia would not pay a fine for someone else's violations.

She told the SL Ohtuleht the law on excess warehouse reserves applied also to foreign companies, so the tax administrator could make claims also to those that had sugar in Estonia at the moment of accession.