Van der Linden controversy re-ignites

  • 2007-10-09
  • By TBT staff and wire reports

UNDER FIRE: Van der Linden's again denied having economic interests in Russia

TALLINN 's More than a week after he left Estonia, Rene van der Linden, president of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) again finds himself the lead news item in Estonia's newspapers.

Van der Linden's visit was controversial from the outset and he infuriated Estonian politicians by repeating statements that claim are factually incorrect, giving a deliberately misleading picture of the country to the outside world.

Letters have been flying between Tallinn and Strasbourg containing claim and counter-claim as a result. The central question concerns whether or not Van der Linden has any form of business interests in Russia. He has insisted that he does not, but Marko Mihkelson, chairman of the Estonian parliament's EU affairs committee, claims that he does.

In a statement issued Oct. 8, Van der Linden said he is not, and never has been, a member of any supervisory or other board of any company having economic interests in Russia.

He also said he had never received any financial advantage, compensation or payment of any sort in relation to activities involving Russia.

"I regret that a member of the Estonian parliament, and a former member of PACE, did not initially call me to verify these allegations before making them public. After my press conference in Tallin on September 19, this is now the second time I have to reply to allegations brought forward without any proof. I would therefore urge Mr. Mihkelson to stop this slandering," Van der Linden said.

Mihkelson had earlier presented journalists in Tallinn with Russian media reports suggesting that Van der Linden may have economic interests vested in an industrial park project in the Sobinsk area of the Vladimir region of Russia - or rather, that if he does not have economic interests there at present, he has quite literally laid the foundations for future interests.

Mihkelson said that Van der Linden is chairman of the supervisory board of Noble House Holding, a company of mainly Dutch equity that runs the Russian project.

A representative of Noble House Holding told Estonia's public ETV television Monday that Van der Linden is not a member of the company's supervisory board and that the supervisory board would be appointed only next year.

But as long ago as 2006 the Russian construction news portal stroinform said that Van der Linden is due to hold the top position on the company's supervisory board.

Noble House Holding, which started business in Russia in 2001, this summer launched an industrial park project on an area of 240 hectares near the city of Vladimir, Mihkelson said.

Mihkelson claimed the PACE president has twice visited the region and looked at the preparatory works for the establishment of the industrial park.

From the reports cited by Mihkelson, on June 2 this year van der Linden attended the laying of the cornerstone of the industrial park and said during a function that followed: "I personally assure you that I feel committed to this region and this project."