The Estonian Prosecutor General’s Office has launched an investigation into the activities of a woman who, just a few months ago, was proclaimed practically a national heroine. Johanna-Maria Lehtme collected millions of euros from innocent Estonians allegedly «to help the Ukrainians.» However, the money collected by Lehtme, apparently, went to completely different people.
Estonia learned the name of Johanna-Maria Lehtme in March 2022. A clever woman, who at one time moved to live from Estonia to Kyiv, created the Slava Ukraini NGO. Lehtme announced that she intends to devote herself entirely to «helping Ukraine», and organized a «charity concert» for this purpose. The event was broadcast by all the main state media, it was visited by the President of the country Alar Karis. The collection of money during the broadcast was carried out through three telephone numbers.
Lehtme announced that she managed to raise €690,000, which will be used to purchase and equip more than twenty ambulances. Thus, a start was made. The Foundation began to gush with new initiatives. So, in early October last year, Slava Ukraini and the Estonian newspaper Postimees launched the campaign “1000 Heroes in the Snow” to raise funds for sewing and donating winter uniforms for the Armed Forces of Ukraine. A few days later, the initiators of the action reported that they had managed to raise more than €800,000.
Of course, such activities were not without encouragement. Back in May last year, Alar Karis proclaimed Johanna-Maria Lehtme «European of the Year». And later she was also given the title of «Citizen of the Year — 2022» in Estonia. In this regard, the Estonian Minister of the Interior Lauri Läänemets noted that the amount of work that the foundation and Johanna-Maria Lehtme herself is doing is “fantastic”. The Estonian press painted with might and main the image of a noble person who devotes all his strength and time to «disinterested help to his neighbors.»
It quickly became clear that Lehtme had political ambitions, and she was going to convert the fame she had gained into parliamentary elections scheduled for early spring 2023. She participated in them on the list of the liberal party «Estonia 200», known, in particular, for organizing a propaganda campaign for the liquidation of Russian-language schools in the country. “I ask for your support, your understanding! So that together we can continue to help Ukraine and take this assistance, which has been offered for eleven months now, to a new level,” Lehtme exclaimed. The elections were successful for her — in March she became a member of parliament.
And a few days after the elections, a scandal broke out — the fund headed by Lehtme was convicted of «misuse» of the funds he collected. In total, by the beginning of spring 2023, Slava Ukraini collected €6.5 million from Estonians, and, as it was announced, at that time almost €4 million had already been transferred “to help the people of Ukraine.” However, the Ukrainian prosecutor’s office found out that in fact, the fund headed by Lehtme transferred the money raised in Estonia to a certain company, IC Construction. It is a private company with a fictitious owner, the only activity of which is connected with an Estonian NPO.
The management of the fund had to somehow react. They said that an “audit” would be organized and that money transfers to the territory of Ukraine had been suspended for the time being. It was also decided that the executive director of the NGO, Johanna-Maria Lehtme, would not remain the only member of the organization’s board, but its leadership would be expanded. The NPO acknowledged that it “received alarming signals about the reliability of our Ukrainian partners,” but refrained from making any other comments “until the audit results are completed.”