Challenging Estonian legislation

  • 2000-09-07
  • Aleksei Gynter
TALLINN - The government on Aug. 29 rejected an offer from businessman Tiit Veeber to reach an out-of-court settlement, which will bring his complaint back to the European Court of Human Rights.

Veeber, 52, is only the third Estonian whose complaint has been accepted by the Strasbourg high court.

Veeber demanded 1.5 million kroons ($85,700) from the government as compensation for damages caused by the confiscation of bookkeeping documents from his Tartu-based company, Giga Ltd. The documents concern Giga's renovation of the public heating network of Tartu, which began in 1995.

The police said the Tartu city government's energy department unlawfully inflated the amount of a loan it requested from the state to fund the heating network project, which Giga was hired to carry out. The police subsequently conducted a search of Giga's premises in order to determine whether there were any original documents which might provide information with regard to the criminal case.

The search took place in November 1995, and practically all of the company's bookkeeping records from the years 1994 and 1995, totaling about 10,000 documents, were seized.

Veeber complained to the state public prosecutor and the minister of justice, Tartu Administrative Court and the Tartu Court of Appeals from 1995 to 1996. On Jan. 15, 1997, the Supreme Court refused to grant the company an appeal, and Veeber decided to file suit against Estonia to the European Court of Human Rights.

Veeber stated that his right of access to court was violated, and that he did not have adequate rights before the national authorities against the police search.

Toomas Sillaste, legal secretary of the ECHR working with Estonian cases, said that Veeber's complaint was well-formulated and correct. "His lawsuit is remarkable, because it creates an important precedent for the Estonian legal system," said Sillaste.

If Veeber wins the case at the European Court, the Estonian government will have to pay a fair amount of his court expenses, according to Sillaste.

The government turned down Veeber's suggestion to reach an out-of-court settlement, stating that the coming decision of the European Court would be useful for the development of Estonian democracy.

Veeber himself declined to comment on his proposal for an out-of-court agreement with the government, but he said that participating in the process of the European Court of Human Rights is a pleasant experience.

"In my opinion, the management and accuracy of the European Court is outstanding. Estonian courts and the European court cannot be compared," said Veeber. He said that the ruling of the European Court of Human Rights would be more valuable for Estonia than an out-of-court agreement.

The two other complaints from Estonian residents accepted by the ECHR concerned freedom of the press and control of correspondence.

Another 39 suits against Estonia are awaiting approval to be heard by the European Court, said Sillaste. This number is not very high, he said.