On Tuesday, May 9th, the Office of the Prosecutor General launched criminal proceedings to investigate the use of Ukraine aid sums by Estonian NGO Slava Ukraini. Proceedings were launched based on the embezzlement section of the Penal Code. The Estonian proceedings were launched the day after similar proceedings in Ukraine.
Public Prosecutor Triinu Olev said that the prosecution and police started analyzing reports as soon as the first hints of possible misuse of funds reached the authorities.
“The investigation was launched based on the section of embezzlement, while this is a preliminary evaluation that could change as proceedings continue. No official suspicions have been brought, with the investigation to determine whether there will be grounds for it,” Olev said.
Because NGO Slava Ukraini has had activities in Ukraine, working with the authorities there will play a crucial role in ascertaining all the circumstances. The criminal proceedings are being conducted by the Central Criminal Police on behalf of the Office of the Prosecutor General.
Since March, ERR has been asking the prosecution in Estonia whether they plan to launch proceedings in this case, while this was not deemed necessary until recently. It turned out on Monday, May 8th, that authorities in Ukraine have launched criminal proceedings on their end.
The prosecution in Ukraine told the country’s public broadcaster that the National Bureau of Investigation launched a pretrial investigation on March 24. Criminal proceedings were launched based on sections of criminal law dealing with embezzlement and use of humanitarian aid and charitable donations for profit. The case is being investigated by the national investigations bureau because of the involvement of public officials. The prosecution is in charge of supervision.
Profit of €250,000 from donations by Estonians
It was revealed in April that NGO Slava Ukraini transferred €1.5 million in aid donations (of a total of €6.5 million in aid collected from Estonia) to a private company called IC Construction with ties to its Ukrainian partners. The firm very likely has a fictitious owner, and its activity was tied exclusively to the Estonian NGO. The Ukrainian company reported a profit of €250,000 last year.
Kristo Tohver, chairman of the supervisory board of Slava Ukraini, has said that the nonprofit had no idea IC Construction had turned a profit on money from Slava Ukraini. Tohver also said that, to the best of his knowledge, Slava Ukraini sole leader Johanna-Maria Lehtme has not profited from the donations.
NGO Slava Ukraini has commissioned an audit to investigate the use of funds.
The supervisory board of Ukraine aid NGO Slava Ukraini has decided to recall manager Johanna-Maria Lehtme from the board for the duration of criminal investigations in Ukraine and Estonia.
Lehtme was elected a Riigikogu MP as a member of Eesti 200 in the March 5 election. Pre-election campaign material expressly referred to her as a helper of Ukraine.
Lehtme has previously said that she does not feel she should leave the Riigikogu at this time. “It is still my task to support Ukraine and do it comprehensively,” said Lehtme.