Estonian prime minister quits over corruption probe

Jüri Ratas resigned as prime minister of Estonia and head of the Centre Party on Wednesday, amid allegations of corruption against his party.

On Tuesday, the Estonian Public Prosecutor’s Office announced it suspected the Centre Party and five individuals, including its Secretary-General Mihhail Korb, were involved in “possible corruption” in relation to allegations of influence peddling and bribery over the Porto Franco property development project in Tallinn.

Ratas said in a statement published on Facebook that while he had been told he was not personally implicated in the allegations and had never knowingly made any “malevolent or knowingly wrong” decisions during his time as PM, he was taking “political responsibility” and stepping aside.’

“The suspicions lodged by the Office of the Prosecutor General … do not yet mean that someone is definitely guilty, but they inevitably cast a serious shadow on all the parties involved,” Ratas wrote. “In such a situation, giving, through my resignation, a possibility to shed light on all circumstances and achieve clarity seems the only right thing to do.”

Prosecutors allege the development was promised permission to build a road on city property, in exchange for a donation of up to 1 million euros to the party ahead of municipal elections, BNS reported.

Ratas, prime minister since late 2016, lost the 2019 general election, in which the centre-right Reform Party emerged the biggest party.

He then blocked the winner from taking power by forming a surprise coalition of his left-leaning Centre, the conservative Fatherland party and the far-right EKRE that gave the three parties a majority in parliament.

According to local media, under the constitution, Ratas’ resignation will lead to the dissolution of the current government, with Ratas likely continuing to act as a caretaker prime minister until a new one is formed. The president will have to propose the next leader of the government to parliament within two weeks.

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