Estonian government collapses over corruption investigation

Prime minister resigns after party named as suspect in inquiry into property project

Jüri Ratas leaving parliament
Jüri Ratas (right) leaving parliament in Tallinn after resigning as prime minister. Photograph: Raigo Pajula/AFP/Getty Images
Jüri Ratas (right) leaving parliament in Tallinn after resigning as prime minister. Photograph: Raigo Pajula/AFP/Getty Images
Europe correspondent

Last modified on Wed 13 Jan 2021 23.37 EST

Estonia’s prime minister has resigned after police and prosecutors launched an investigation into an alleged corruption scandal involving his left-leaning Centre party related to a property development.

Jüri Ratas, the prime minister since 2016, handed his resignation letter to the president on Wednesday, local media reported, bringing down the centre-right coalition government he heads that also includes a far-right party.

“The suspicion expressed by the public prosecutor’s office … does not mean that someone is definitely guilty, but it will inevitably cast a serious shadow over all those involved,” Ratas said on his Facebook page.

“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.” The prime minister added he had “not made any malicious or knowingly wrong decisions”.

He took the decision after meeting party officials on Tuesday night, hours after the Centre party was declared a suspect in a criminal investigation over the financing of a property development project in the capital, Tallinn.

Ratas lost the 2019 general election to the centre-right Reform party but prevented the victors from taking power by forming a coalition with the conservative Fatherland party and the far-right, anti-EU EKRE.

Estonia’s president, Kersti Kaljulaid, now has 14 days to name a new prime minister, who will have to be approved by parliament. There will be elections if no candidate for premier can command a majority among MPs.

The investigation centres on a property company called Porto Franco, which received a €39m state loan and struck a lucrative deal with authorities in Tallinn – whose mayor is a member of the Centre party – for a development in the old city harbour.

The party is accused of accepting donations from a businessman linked to Porto Franco, Hillar Teder. Among other suspects in the investigation is Kersti Kracht, an adviser to the finance minister, Martin Helme, from EKRE.

Ratas said: “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.”

The resignation comes a day before the coalition government was due to vote on an EKRE proposal for a national referendum on the definition of marriage, to be held this spring.