Free Party pays monthly contribution to watchdog member nonprofit

At the time of his appointment, chairman of the Political Parties Financing Surveillance Committee (ERJK), Ardo Ojasalu was a member of the Social Democratic Party. He left it in September 2017. Now it turns out that an anti-corruption nonprofit organisation run by Ojasalu receives €5,000 a month from the Free Party—and that half of this sum is allocated to Ojasalu's monthly salary.

ERR's radio news reported on Friday that Ojasalu's nonprofit, MTÜ Korruptsiooniradar ("corruption radar"), has received a monthly donation of €5,000 from the Free Party. Half of the money apparently was paid out as Ojasalu's salary.

Both Ojasalu and the Free Party are frequently in the media for their passionate fight against corruption. Ojasalu in particular has been one of the key figures in substantial penalties imposed on the Centre Party in the course of the investigation and trial of the party's former long-time chairman, Edgar Savisaar.

Though Ojasalu was quick to say that he "sees no conflict of interest" in the arrangement, the Centre, Reform, and Social Democratic parties all demanded an explanation.

Fellow committee member and its Centre Party representative, Tõnis Mõlder said that Ojasalu can't continue as ERJK's chairman. "It also needs to be investigated more closely what the services and favours were for which the Free Party supported Ardo Ojasalu to such a noteworthy extent," Mõlder said.

Centre Party's Tõnis Mõlder: Free Party essentially bought Ojasalu committee seat

"A committee made up of party representatives that keep an eye on their competitors can under no circumstances be completely fair. Today we see that it's apparently also possible to put the committee to work for one's own goals," Mõlder commented Ojasalu's newly public connection to the Free Party.

He added that Ojasalu had repeatedly written opinion pieces and stood up for the Free Party's kind of rhetoric when it suited them very nicely. The committee now needs to look into the case, but even without that it is clear that Ojasalu's conduct has been neither transparent nor appropriate for his position, Mõlder insisted.

The Social Democratic Party (SDE), who appointed Ojasalu and let him remain on the committee after he left the party in September 2017, can recall and replace him. But at this point, Ojasalu himself can be expected to accept the consequences and step down voluntarily, Mõlder said.

Social Democrats, Reform expecting Ojasalu to explain himself

Chairman of the Social Democratic Party (SDE), Jevgeni Ossinovski said that he had no idea that Ojasalu's salary has been backed by the Free Party. He didn't want to exclude the possibility that SDE might recall Ojasalu from the committee, but said that the party needs to discuss this first, and that it doesn't fall within his competencies as chairman either.

The party's secretary-general, Kalvi Kõva said that they will consider naming a new representative to the committee. "We'll discuss this. Ardo Ojasalu isn't a member of our party anymore, and we of course have the right to appoint a representative to the committee, and we're considering this," Kõva said.

The Reform Party's secretary-general, Kert Valdaru, told ERR on Friday that they expect Ojasalu to explain himself, but at the same time stressed that in his work Ojasalu had been reasonably fair to all of Estonia's parties.

"Right now today the chairman of the surveillance committee has to explain the nature of the support he receives from the Free Party in more detail. And once he has done so, then we can make a decision as well whether or not Ojasalu can continue," Valdaru said.

Ojasalu can either step down himself, or then it is up to the Social Democratic Party to recall him.

Ojasalu sees no conflict of interest

Ardo Ojasalu told ERR that there is no conflict of interest. "If there was some issue where I feel there is a conflict of interest, for example something connected with the Free Party or my own person, then of course I would recuse myself," he said.

About half of the money MTÜ Korruptsiooniradar receives from the Free Party is spent on his salary, Ojasalu said. The remainder is used to cover other expenses. According to Ojasalu, the support he receives from the Free Party has never been kept secret, but on the contrary was mentioned in Korruptsiooniradar's first-ever press conference.

He added that he always taken into account that the Free Party could cut him off at any time, but that he sees this as an internal matter of the party. He pointed out that the committee hasn't recently had any goings-on that would have involved the Free Party, but that if such a time should come, he would "certainly" recuse himself.
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