Land deals land former minister in jail

  • 2009-11-25
  • By Ella Karapetyan

TALLINN - The former Minister of the Environment, Villu Reiljan, was accused of taking 1.5 million kroons (96,100 euros) in bribes to facilitate numerous land exchange deals. The second court hearing of the former minister’s case was held on Nov. 17. Under the judgement delivered, Reiljan received a conditional sentence of 2 years and 3 months in prison with a 3-year probation period.

According to the prosecutors, Reiljan asked for the 1.5 million kroons’ bribe from Aivo Parn, representative of Wipestrex Grupp, in exchange for the authorization of the sale, on favorable terms, of an office building in Tallinn.
The court process actually started on Nov. 12 in the Harju County courthouse with the presentation of summaries, according to which prominent Estonian civil servants received bribes ranging from tens of thousands, to millions of kroons, from real estate companies and businessmen to help secure ownership of exclusive land plots.

Public prosecutors Laura Feldmanis and Inna Ombler presented a summary of charges that indicated that 13 allegedly illegal land exchange transactions, worth 250 million kroons, were carried out against proper procedures.
Real estate businessmen chose state-owned high-quality land units that they wanted to acquire, and state officials made sure that the land reached the businessmen via the land exchange procedure. The procedure was initially developed so that owners of land with nature protection restrictions could exchange their land for some other plots without such restrictions.
According to the prosecutors, Reiljan may have received 700,000 kroons in bribes while minister, and Kalev Kangur may have received a 25 million kroons’ bribe as head of the land board for facilitating businessmen to swap land in these natural protection zones with lucrative state-owned land in cities.

Reiljan’s attorney Aivar Pilv, says the accusations are inaccurate. According to the prosecutor’s office, the businessmen first selected the desired replacement properties and then Kangur and Reiljan saw to it that these properties would reach the hands of the businessmen through the land exchange process. The opening statement by Feldmanis indicated that the main person behind the scheme was former head of the land board, Kangur. The former minister of environment, according to the Public Prosecutor’s Office, took much less in bribes.

All seven defendants were present at the hearing, including former Agriculture Minister Ester Tuiksoo who received 40,000 kroons. Businessmen Toomas Annus, Tullio Liblik, Tarmo Pedjasaar and Einar Vettus are accused of giving bribes to the officials. The list of defendants also includes two companies - real estate firms Merko Ehitus and E.L.L Kinnisvara.
 None of the defendants have admitted guilt and all have said they did not understand the essence of the accusations. Reiljan claims that as minister, he signs thousands of acts, including land exchange documents, but that he has not asked for or received any bribes.

Lawyers predict that this case, one of the biggest corruption cases in Estonia, may last for up to 5 years.
In October Reiljan submitted his resignation to the prime minister because of the scandal.
Prime Minister Andrus Ansip said of Reiljan’s letter of resignation that this was the most appropriate solution to the given situation.