Estonia's millionaires club grows

  • 2002-04-11
  • Aleksei Gunter

Nearly 150 Estonia residents officially earned more than 1 million kroons ($56,000) last year, a 30 percent increase over 2000, according to the Social Insurance Department.

The number of so-called "salary millionaires," those who paid taxes on an annual salary of at least 1 million kroons, rose from 89 in 2000 to 147 last year. Those numbers don't include those who received additional income from investments or benefits.

Eleven women made it to the millionaires list, as did 11 state officials. The largest annual salary reported to the department last year was 3.5 million kroons, 500,000 kroons more than the highest for 2000.

Parbo Juchnewitsch, the former CEO of Estonian Railway, which is now privatized, earned the highest income - 2.45 million kroons - among state officials last year, thanks in part to the severance package he received when he left the company.

Other high-paid state officials included Eesti Energia CEO Gunnar Okk and Mati Jostov, head of Estonian Oil-Shale, who earned 1.44 million kroons each.

The list could grow this summer when the Tax Board finishes processing tax statements.

Not all big earners in Estonia are comfortable revealing their incomes.

Raivo Vetik, a sociologist at the Institute of International and Social Studies, said that many wealthy people in Estonian were experiencing the "millionaire's complex." Because Estonia's economy is still in the developmental stage, he argues, many wealthy people are still ashamed of their incomes and like to keep them private.

Monika Salu, CEO of Eesti Loto, Estonia's lottery administration body, and the highest-paid female state official in Estonia last year, agrees.

"The envy of people close to a person that earns a lot of money sometimes makes that person play down his income," she said.

Salu earned 500,000 kroons last year and ranked 25th among state officials.

Raivo Vare, CEO at the oil transit company Pakterminal, one of the largest companies in Estonia, told the daily newspaper Postimees that he did not support revealing the salaries of private-sector employees.

"Estonian society is not yet ready for that," he said. "The gaps at different levels of life in Estonia are still huge, and news about high salaries would cause only anger."