Prosecutors Surrender to Kallas
The four-year criminal case against Finance Minister Siim Kallas is finally over, after a controversial end. Kallas, the previous week, was acquitted of the charge of providing false information in a lower court, but the prosecutor in the case had decided to appeal. However, Estonia's chief prosecutor, Raivo Sepp, overruled his deputy, took over the case and decided to end the appellate process. Sepp said he trusted the judicial system for making its judgements in this long-running case.
Siim Kallas has fought the courts for over four years over the so-called "Ten Million Dollars" affair, where such a sum of money was lost in a shady deal involving the central bank when Kallas was its president. Kallas was later charged with all sorts of crimes, such as abuse of power and fraud, but was acquitted on all counts. Kallas defeated all the appeals, up to the Supreme Court, which upheld all the acquittals except for one charge—providing false information. That case was sent down to the lower courts for a retrial, thus this recent acquittal. The USD ten million has never been retrieved.
In the case, Kallas was represented by high-profile lawyer Indrek Teder, who happens to be the law partner of Justice Minister Märt Rask. All of them are members of the Reform Party, of which Kallas is the leader.
Savi Ahead in Presidential Run?
A poll published by the magazine Luup is suggesting that Reform Party member and Riigikogu Speaker Toomas Savi may have an advantage going into the autumn 2001 presidential elections. The magazine solicited the opinions of over 200 local council leaders, and nearly 50 per cent offered support for Savi to succeed Lennart Meri. About 20 per cent supported Pro Patria Union member and Deputy Riigikogu Speaker Tunne Kelam, while less than ten per cent supported other candidates.
There are major implications in this poll, since the next President is likely to be decided by an electoral college. If the Riigikogu fails to give one candidate the support of at least 67 votes (in the 101-member house), the election goes to the electoral college, comprised of the 101 MPs and 266 representatives of local councils.
However, the poll may also be premature, as shifts in power in local councils in the coming 11 months could easily change the balance of this poll. Some argue that part of the crises in various local government is due to positioning tactics for this crucial race, as the next President (the first term would conclude in 2006) would preside over Estonia's EU entry and perhaps NATO as well.
Narva Coalition Collapses
Narva Mayor Eldar Efendijev resigned late this past week in anticipation of a no-confidence motion against him from 17 members of the 33-member Narva City Council. The opposition "Narva" faction, formed by the Reform Party, the Moderates, the Russian Party in Estonia and the People's Trust coalition, organised the no-confidence motion with support from many other factions—including four breakaway members of the Centre Party, of which Efendijev is a member. This comes as local political intrigue picks up all around Estonia, from last week in Pärnu to the ongoing mess in Tallinn (see this week's Amber Coast for a run-down of the Tallinn situation).
Threat from Rome?
Estonia, Italian and Lithuanian press jumped on a story of over-zealous diplomacy pursued by Rome in their bid to win Italy a non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council. A letter signed by Italian Foreign Ministry Secretary-general Umberto Vattani obtained by the press featured some heavy language and suggested that Italy would downgrade its embassies in Vilnius and Tallinn, or downright close them, if support for Italy's UN bid were not forthcoming.
This case of over-zealous diplomacy was quite embarrassing to Italian Foreign Minister Lamberto Dini, who faced a Senate interpellation to explain his ministry's actions. Dini reaffirmed that Italy supports the Baltic states in their EU aspirations. However, all this was for naught, as Ireland won the seat in question at the Security Council. Most analysts do not believe this will seriously damage ties between Italy and the Baltics.
And in other news...
- Spineless. Estonia, along with its Baltic neighbours, voted against the UN resolution condemning Israel for its role in recent violence in the Middle East. Did they fail to remember they were once occupied by a foreign power that did arbitrary damage on their soil and to their people (read: Lebanon). Realpolitik beat out their conscience, perhaps.
- The HIV infection rate continues to grew, as over 75 new cases have been diagnosed in October alone. This brings the total number of new HIV carriers to 200, more than doubling the number diagnosed in the previous 11 years. Several cadets called up for military service recently have been found to be HIV positive.
- Foreign Minister Toomas Hendrik Ilves met with his old friend, British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook, in London to sign a co-operation agreement on Estonia's EU integration. The agreement called for British assistance in various areas of integration, such as justice and social affairs. A similar agreement has been signed by Britain and other "Luxembourg group" EU candidates.
- Lieutenant General Johannes Kert has turned down, for now, the post of Ground Forces commander, but said he will remain an advisor to his successor as Defence Forces commander, Rear Admiral Tarmo Kõuts.
- The manager of the Tallinn Central Market, Vadim Polishchuk, was formally charged and arrested for plotting the murder of controversial businessman Mait Metsamaa last year. Metsamaa, who was fighting charges of vehicular manslaughter at the time, was gunned down while reportedly visiting a girlfriend. Several other Central Market officials have also been charged for being involved.
- A ten-year-old boy died after being set ablaze by an eleven-year-old, using petrol from a motorbike. This has shocked Estonian society, as youth violence is on the rise.
- Former Education Minister Mait Klaassen has been appointed as head of the rural Võru county after an acrimonious public battle between parties involved in the ruling coalition. Klaassen is from the Reform Party.
- The trilateral council, representing the government, the unions and the employers, finally agreed to increase the monthly minimum wage to EEK (Estonian kroons) 1600, starting next year. The union held firm on the EEK 1600 figure, despite employers offering EEK 1550 (up from EEK 1400). This is a significant union victory, though employers warn that jobs may have to be cut.
- British insurers of the Greek/Maltese freighter Alambra are challenging the fine waged against the tanker for leaking hundreds of tonnes of oil into the Port of Tallinn. The insurers are challenging both the amount that is said to have been leaked and the reason. The Environmental Inspectorate claims at least 250 tonnes of oil spilt and is fining the Alambra EEK 450 million.
- Inflation rose by 1.4 per cent in the third quarter of 2000.
- Polish airliner LOT has reinstated its Tallinn-Warsaw route after many years. The route was abandoned several years ago because there were not enough people using it, but since second Estonian airline ELK Airlines began the route again, LOT has restarted three return flights a week—to be increased to five per week by year's end.
- Who says Estonians aren't sentimental? The biggest grossing movie of the past weekend was The Tigger Movie, beating out the raunchy Coyote Ugly.
- Swedish Defence Minister Björn von Sydow reaffirmed Sweden's support of Estonia and the Baltic countries' aspirations to join NATO. This came after several top-ranking Swedish military officers criticised the Baltics' NATO bid. Defence Minister von Sydow was in Tartu to visit the Baltic Defence College.
- During the Amber Sea 2000 naval exercises off the Lithuanian coast, Latvian naval craft Viesturs rammed Estonia's flagship Kalev by accident. The event occurred on Friday the 13th, joked crewmembers, who added that it was lucky no one was hurt. Kalev was repaired in Liepāja, Latvia, and will take part in another joint naval exercise off the Latvian coast soon.
- The number of mobile telephone users crossed the half million mark at the end of the third quarter. Estonia's population is just over 1.4 million.
- Estonian top model, Carmen Kass, was named Vogue's model of the year.
As of 27 October 2000
|1 US dollar||18.00|
|1 British pound||26.03|
|1 German mark||8|
Mel Huang, 27 October 2000
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