Estonian prime minister Jüri Ratas’s failure to sack the deceitful minister of rural affairs, Martin Repinski, threatens to drag the whole political culture in Estonia back to 1990s.
The new Estonian government, led by the Centre Party, has already been dogged by the scandal, just few days after assuming power. Its young minister of rural affairs, Martin Repinski (Centre Party), has been caught distorting facts and publicly lying about his private business affairs. Despite giving false information and being dishonest, the minister refuses to step down – and the prime minister lacks courage to sack the deceitful minister.
The scandal started to unravel when the largest weekly newspaper in Estonia, Eesti Ekspress, revealed a series of shortcomings at Repinski’s goat farm: according to the report, he had lied about the origin of the goat cheese – rather than produced locally as claimed by his farm, a part of the production had been imported from the Netherlands; at least some of the salaries had been paid tax-free, in cash; there were series of violations with regards to health and safety and hygiene; and shortcomings in animal welfare.
A deeper hole
The pictures that had been taken by the paper around the farm spoke volumes: a large number of dirty-looking goats gathered on top of the wet and muddy, tiny hump; a lone employee pushing a wretched wheelbarrow that had a wheel about to come off. All the while Repinski had claimed almost a million euros EU-funded taxpayer subsidy for the farm (in one of the subsequent interviews, he said he “didn’t know his farm had received that much”).
Following the revelations, Repinski attempted to reject and dismiss the accusations, but each time, he appeared to dig himself deeper in a hole. The newspaper compared facts vs Repinski’s arguments and detected that rather than overturning the accusations, the minister contradicted his previous statements.
Despite Repinski’s questionable business practices and what’s most important, his duplicitous behaviour, both the prime minister as well as the Centre Party’s parliamentary group in the Estonian parliament supported his staying on.
The fact that the minister had been caught giving contradictory statements, would have been enough to cast a shadow over his credibility. Sadly, the disclosures didn’t stop there. A further report by the Estonian Public Broadcasting revealed that Repinski had received a suspended sentence when he was 15 – he had published a newspaper advert calling for donations to the Pühtitsa Convent at Kuremäe for the restoration of desecrated graves, adding to it the number of his personal bank account.
Blatantly lying on the record
To be fair to him, he publicly apologised and explained that he had chosen a fraudulent way in order to help his parents who had lost their jobs at the difficult time in Ida-Viru County, the notoriously reliant area on old industries, such as shale oil extraction.
Unfortunately, the reports about Repinski’s dodgy affairs didn’t stop there. His company, in charge of the goat farm, was also recently involved in the insurance fraud. In an interview given to Estonian rural affairs weekly, Maaleht, the minister accused one of his former employees, a van driver, causing the fraudulent act and claimed he had informed the insurance company about the unjustified claim and agreed to pay back the damage compensation that he had already received. This is where he was caught blatantly lying on the record – the insurance company disclosed on 5 December that it hasn’t received a penny from Repinski and has, in fact, filed a lawsuit against him.
This publication understands very well the concept of forgiveness and pardon. It is not right to finger point at Repinski for the fraud he committed 15 years ago – especially considering the fact that he received a suspended sentence and regretted this act. But it is very unfortunate that the minister has not learned from his past mistakes and continues to deceive people. Deceitful behaviour is not honourable to anyone, let alone a government minister of a democratic and transparent member state of the European Union.
We call Repinski to resign
This publication hardly ever writes about the internal Estonian politics, but we have our own red lines – and this affair is one of them. The political culture in Estonia has improved immensely over the years – although the previous lead party, the Reform Party, was accused of arrogance by many, its ministers stepped down quickly when involved in questionable affairs or accused of negligence. This is the modern and transparent way – and that’s how it should be. Repinski’s refusal to leave his post, even though his credibility is shattered, is not the correct way.
The Centre Party’s lead figures and their coalition partners in the government, the Social Democratic Party and the Union of Pro Patria and Res Publica, should know better – the Centre Party is already having the benefit of the doubt, due to its previous corruption scandals in the Tallinn City Council, and due to its active cooperation agreement with United Russia, the ruling party of the Russian Federation and president Vladimir Putin.
The United Russia party is also known as the “party of crooks and thieves” – a term coined by the Russian anti-corruption activist Alexei Navalny.
Estonian World calls the leading party in the Estonian government, the Centre Party, to prove it is not leading Estonia like the “party of crooks and thieves” – we call minister Martin Repinski to resign.
Cover: Estonia’s minister of rural affairs, Martin Repinski (photo by Sven Abert/Maaleht.)