Estonia’s PM resigns over corruption scandal in his party

Left-leaning Ratas had been PM since 2016, leading a coalition which has been forced to quit in the wake of his resignation.

Ratas's Centre Party and five people are accused of criminal involvement in a real estate case [File: Olivier Hoslet/Pool via Reuters]

Estonia’s prime minister has resigned over a corruption scandal in his Centre Party that led to key party officials resigning overnight, and talks began on Wednesday among political parties about forming a new ruling coalition.

The move automatically prompts the resignation of Estonia’s three-party coalition government but does not automatically mean a new election.

Estonian Prime Minister Juri Ratas said early Wednesday on his Facebook page that he would step down as “the suspicion expressed by the Public Prosecutor’s Office …. does not mean that someone is definitely guilty but they will inevitably cast a serious shadow over all those involved.”

“In such a situation, it seems only right that, by resigning myself, I will give the opportunity to shed light on all the facts and come to clarity,” Ratas wrote on Facebook.

Ratas said he personally has not done anything wrong.

“Despite taking political responsibility, I can say with all my heart that, as prime minister, I have not made any malicious or deliberately wrong decisions,” he wrote on Facebook.

After Ratas’ announcement, parties immediately started talks forming a new government. Estonia’s President Kersti Kaljulaid said she would propose that the main opposition party, the centre-right Reform Party, have its chairwoman Kaja Kallas form the new Cabinet.

Ratas has led a majority coalition of his left-leaning Centre Party, the nationalist EKRE party and the conservative Fatherland party since April 2019. He has acted as the prime minister of the Baltic country of 1.3 million since November 2016.

On Tuesday, Estonia’s security police it was investigating the offices of state credit agency KredEx over suspicions of corruption regarding a 39 million-euro ($48 million) loan granted to the Porto Franco real estate complex in harbour district of the capital, Tallinn.

The Public Prosecutor’s Office said separately it suspected the Centre Party and five people of criminal involvement in the Porto Franco real estate case.

Among them is party secretary Mihhail Korb of the Centre Party and real estate businessman Hillar Teder. Korb announced his resignation late Tuesday.

“As head of government, I … did not feel in the Porto Franco case that any minister or party had tried to influence the decisions taken by the government in an illegal way,” Ratas said on his Facebook page.

Source: AP