Editorials: The Estonian PM does not understand the seriousness of the situation

Estonia’s major dailies say in their 5 September editorials that the country’s prime minister, Kaja Kallas, once again missed the opportunity to give convincing and exhaustive answers to the public and does not understand the impact of the scandal concerning her husband’s Russia related business on the reputation of Estonia.

The prime minister said at a sitting of the anti-corruption select committee of the parliament on 4 September that her savings are from the time she worked as a lawyer. She said she has been working for 28 years, 17 of them in the private sector, where she was a partner in two law firms.

“I was a very good lawyer and I made good money,” Kallas said.

In its editorial, titled “Kallas’ Endless Groundhog Day”, the daily Postimees says almost nothing new was learned at the sitting of the anti-corruption select committee.

“It was all the more strange to see that Kallas had not prepared for the committee meeting at all: there were no notes, documents, and she also started looking for her loan information on her mobile phone on the fly, which ended with the sad realisation that it is not possible to get older information from there. Good lawyers do not do that,” Postimees writes.

The daily notes that Kallas once again missed the opportunity to give convincing and comprehensive answers to the public.

“‘I don’t understand your question,’ the prime minister complained. ‘She grumbled that she has been open and transparent, but she has learned the lesson that the more open she is, the more questions arise. Does Kaja Kallas really not understand? Attacking members of the committee, closed body language in the form of arms crossed on the chest and the continued vagueness was not an example of openness. It is not about the personalities of the members, some of whom the prime minister may dislike. In this case, the questions were asked by members of parliament, literally the representatives of people. And people have a right to know,” Postimees writes.

The Estonian prime minister and the leader of the Reform Party, Kaja Kallas, speaking in front of the parliament. Photo by the Reform Party.
The Estonian prime minister and the leader of the Reform Party, Kaja Kallas, speaking in front of the parliament. Photo by the Reform Party.

“The prime minister still doesn’t understand”

In its editorial, titled “Prime Minister Kallas Still Does Not Understand”, Eesti Päevaleht says it is a shame the prime minister still does not understand.

“The fact that no matter how legally correctly the companies linked to her husband followed the sanctions and how pure the origin of the money she lent is – morally, she is no longer a beacon of economic sanctions against Russia. Instead, her example can be used to justify continuing to do business with Russia,” the daily writes.

According to the daily, the Helmes – the leaders [Martin and Mart Helme] of the ultra-right EKRE party – and Kallas are becoming increasingly similar by trying to please their supporters by tussling with each other.

“Yesterday’s confrontation between Kaja Kallas and Mart Helme in the parliament’s anti-corruption select committee also caused the internal political alarm bell to ring louder. Instead of the facts explaining the causes of the eastbound transport scandal, the committee session mainly offered a fight between Kallas and Helme. Helme could have refrained from being derailed by irrelevant topics and Kallas could have come before the committee well prepared, for example equipped with documents refuting the accusations and suspicions of the opposition,” Eesti Päevaleht writes.

A truck owned by Stark Logistics, an Estonian company partly owned by Kaja Kallas’s husband, Arvo Hallik. It emerged on 23 August that the company has not ceased operations with Russia. Photo from Stark Logistics website.

In its editorial, titled “The Arrogance of the Squirrels and the ‘Wisdom’ of the Helmes”, Äripäev writes that the parliamentary committee convened to investigate the details of the Russia related business activities of the prime minister’s husband offered, at best, sick political entertainment, but no new relevant facts.

Kallas sent a copy of the loan agreement to the committee

According to the business daily, what happened at the sitting of the anti-corruption select committee was broadly the same as at the spring plenary sessions in the parliament, where the irrelevant outweighed the relevant.

“I’m a very smart person, it’s very interesting. I’m a very educated person,” boasted committee chairman Mart Helme, quoting Lenin once again and telling a Russian anecdote as an interlude.

“However, Kaja Kallas, who was invited by the committee to report on her husband’s Russia related business scandal, instead brought up Helme’s activities as Estonia’s ambassador in Moscow and the money spent on the construction of his Suur-Lahtru mansion,” the paper writes.

Kaja Kallas with her husband Arvo Hallik at the Estonian Independence Day reception in 2018. Photo courtesy of Kaja Kallas’s official Facebook page.

In the evening of 4 September, the day before the editorials were published, Kallas announced that she had sent to members of the anti-corruption select committee of the parliament a contract pertaining to a loan she gave to her husband’s company along with two annexes of the agreement.

She also stated that she has always been completely honest and transparent about her income and properly declared her financial interests.

A desire to do something for Estonia

“My declarations have been accessible to everyone because I have nothing to hide. The witch hunt that the opposition is orchestrating against me due to my husband’s business partner has crossed the line,” Kallas wrote on social media.

The prime minister said that opposition MPs of the select committee surprised her with a question about the exact dates she entered into loan agreements with her husband.

“I don’t understand how this is relevant, but to show that I really have nothing to hide, I have just sent the loan agreement and its two annexes to members of the committee,” she said.

At the parliamentary committee meeting where Kallas pointed out that she was a very good lawyer before entering politics, she also noted that her savings did not come from the last five years during her time in Estonian politics. She also confirmed that she earned nine times more when she was in the private sector than as a politician.

At that, she emphasised that she did not choose the career of a politician because of money, but because of the desire to do something for Estonia.

The Estonian president Alar Karis meeting with the country’s prime minister Kaja Kallas at Kadriorg’s presidential palace on 4 September 2023. Karis has said that Kaja Kallas should have resigned right away, in the wake of the scandal involving her husband’s business links in Russia. Photo by the Estonian President’s Office.

Questions about Kallas’ finances arose in connection with her loans to her husband Arvo Hallik’s company Novaria Consult. The total amount of the two loans was €370,000.

Kallas lent €370,000 to the company that has business interests in Russia

The Estonian Public Broadcasting reported on 23 August that Stark Logistics, a transport company partly owned by Kallas’s husband Arvo Hallik, has not ceased operations with Russia.

The company had continued shipments to Russia throughout the war in Ukraine that started on 24 February 2022. Ever since the war started, Kallas has told the Estonian as well as the international media that “there must be no business with Russia”.

The Estonian prime minister had a clear link to her husband’s business interests, since her declaration of economic interests, made public in June, revealed that she had lent €350,000 to Arvo Hallik’s company Novaria Consult that owns 24.8 per cent of Stark Logistics. In August, Kallas said she had lent a further €20,000 to her husband’s company.

Although Kaja Kallas said that she didn’t know about her husband’s business interests in Russia, she visited Metaprint’s offices in January 2022, a month before Russia invaded Ukraine. She has also accompanied her husband at least twice at Metaprint’s events. Metaprint owns aerosol packaging factories, including one in St. Petersburg, Russia. Photo by Stenbock House.

According to a recent poll, 66 per cent, or two in three Estonian citizens are of the opinion that Kaja Kallas should step down as the prime minister of Estonia. Major Estonian newspapers have also called Kallas to resign and have said the prime minister undermines the country’s democracy.

Kallas has until now insisted no intention to resign and the party she leads – the Reform Party that has 37 seats in the 101-strong Estonian parliament – has so far largely stood behind her.

Kaja Kallas became Estonia’s first female prime minister in January 2021.

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