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28 Aug, 2023 23:36

Baltic PM digs in over Russia scandal

Estonia’s Kaja Kallas says she has no intention of resigning
Baltic PM digs in over Russia scandal

The Estonian prime minister said on Monday that she would refuse to appear before two parliamentary committees probing her family's business activities, and denied any wrongdoing. 

Kaja Kallas is fighting for her political survival after Estonian media revealed that her husband, Arvo Hallik, held a stake in a company operating in Russia despite Western sanctions.  

“The opposition will definitely come out with a motion of no confidence, in which case I will appear before the Riigikogu [Estonian legislature] to give an account. I will certainly appear before the relevant committees,” Kallas told the state broadcaster ERR on Monday morning.

In the same interview, however, Kallas said she would not attend the joint session of the State Budget Control and the Anti-Corruption select committees, scheduled for Tuesday. According to the PM, her husband’s business activities in Russia did not affect the Estonian budget, so the committee had no jurisdiction.

Kallas told ERR she would like to know “what exactly they are charging me with,” and that she looked forward to putting the matter to rest, with a public session of parliament and a vote.

The scandal erupted last Wednesday, when ERR discovered that Arvo Hallik was a part-owner of Stark Logistics, a shipping firm that has continued to transport goods to and from Russia even after hostilities in Ukraine escalated in February 2022.

Not only was this a possible breach of EU sanctions against Russia, but Kallas herself has been a hard-liner on supporting Ukraine, insisting that “all business with Russia must stop.”

Speaking to ERR on Monday, Kallas acknowledged that she visited a client of her husband’s company in January 2022, and that a slideshow on display at the time may have mentioned a factory of theirs in Russia, but that since this was before the Ukraine conflict no one paid it any attention.

“Given all the companies I visit, there’s no way to say that if I’m presented with a slideshow, I’m somehow responsible for that,” Kallas argued. She also confirmed that Hallik had sold his stake in Stark Logistics on Friday, for what she described as “a peppercorn sum.” 

Kallas also insisted that a loan she provided to her husband went to his “financial holding company,” which had nothing to do with residential construction. However, Hallik had told ERR that the loan was intended for the building of a house in Kuusalu, near Tallinn.

According to Kallas, Estonia’s reputation has in no way been harmed, all of her foreign colleagues have been “very supportive,” and she saw no reason to resign. She also doubled down on the boycott of Russia, but said that “every company must find its own moral compass, in order to achieve this.”

Kallas took office in January 2021 as Estonia’s first female PM. This is her third coalition cabinet, with a 59% majority in the parliament. However, the latest opinion polls show that 57% of Estonians wanted to see her resign.