Information Board staff may have stolen money earmarked for foreign spies

23.05.2014, 11:22

Four employees of Information Board (Teabeamet), the Estonian foreign intelligence service, are suspected of embezzlement.

According to Eesti Päevaleht, the four have probably pocketed hundreds of thousands of euros that may have been earmarked for secret procurements or, more likely, funds aimed at paying to foreign spies.

Few details have been revealed, but the prosecution said the men were entrusted with assets belonging to other people, which they kept for themselves.

Besides the corruption, thought to involve a few hundred thousand euros, two of the men were also charged with publishing state secrets.

Eesti Päevaleht writes that Bõstrov and Kotkin may have pocketed funds earmarked for special operations, for instance, claiming expenses for phantom operations that were never carried out.

In a surprising twist, two of the four names of the highly secretive agency, were revealed at a press conference yesterday as being Sergei Bõstrov and Pavel Kotkin.

This is highly unusual and leads to suspect that it was done in anticipation of something bigger. One possibility is that this was done as a message or a warning because the men may have used others, for instance, for laundering the money.

Kotkin was actually working on two jobs as he is the head of the diplomatic security department in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

At the same time also worked for the Information Board. MFA paid him 2,760 euros a month, but his salary in the Information Board is not known.

As responsible for security, Kotkin’s job was compromised recently when Russians leaked the recording of the phone conversation between Estonian Minister of Foreign Affairs Urmas Paet and European Commission’s vice president Catherine Ashton.
In 1997, Kotkin was forced to resign as a lawyer in KAPO when he was found out to have passed a university test on behalf of a regional executive of KAPO.

As for Bõstrov, he was probably working in the Information Board as head of the diplomatic protection office. In this case his responsibilities included counterintelligence in foreign embassies because KAPO does not work abroad.

More specific job requirements are making sure that intelligence services of foreign countries do not hire our diplomats and embassy staff and to ensure protection of embassies including secure IT solutions, etc. which includes access to secret procurement funds.

Information Board is subordinated to the Ministry of Defence and its budget is hidden inside Estonia’s national defence costs which last year totalled 384 million euros.
Bõstrov who is also known as Rene Kask has a colourful past. He has been head of the intelligence unit of the Defence League and set up SOG, the special operations group of Defence Forces. When SOG was involved in a killing incident in 1999, the unit was disbanded.

In another scandal in 1999, Bõstrov had set up a special operations unit involving professionally trained and armed fighters in the Information Board that was aimed to protect and return home Estonian spies abroad who were at risk of being exposed. Another responsibility was to ensure that in case of war, Estonian leaders could emigrate abroad. By the way, inside the Information Board, members of this unit were called killers.

Bõstrov is also a key person in a spy scandal when in 1999 Russians arrested in Pskov Estonian businessman Pjotr Kalatchov for spying. Kalatchov reportedly told Russians that he had been hired as a spy by Bõstrov.

Lavish lifestyles
Former colleagues of Pavel Kotkin say that he liked to splash money around, wore expensive designer clothing and drove around in a Mercedes that was well beyond his means.

In 2010, for instance, Kotkin bought a villa in Laagri and took a 200,000 euro mortgage from SEB.

The villa where Kotkin and his wife live is much more luxurious than the residence of the chief executive of one of Estonia’s largest private companies nearby.