Finland’s Millionaire PM Denies Wrongdoing in Contract Dispute

Finnish Prime Minister Juha Sipila has denied accusations he abused his power after a family business was allegedly awarded a contract worth about $530,000 by a state-owned mining firm.

Sipila also denied placing undue pressure on a reporter at state broadcaster YLE, who said he inundated her with e-mails after she wrote about the alleged conflict of interest.

Juha Sipila

Photographer: Jack Taylor/Getty Images

"It’s a serious accusation that one would favor their relatives, and that has not at all been the case," Sipila told reporters in parliament on Wednesday.

The former businessman, who came to power in a 2015 general election, is fending off the accusations as he tries to improve Finland’s competitiveness, in part by asking Finns to work more without getting pay rises.

The country’s Parliamentary Ombudsman is looking into the alleged wrongdoing by Sipila. The government agreed to provide 100 million euros ($107 million) of taxpayers’ money to the Terrafame mine, which is located in Talvivaara in eastern Finland. According to YLE, the publicly owned mine then assigned a 500,000 euro contract to Katera Steel, a subcontracting firm whose owners include cousins and uncles of the prime minister.

Fortel Invest, a company that Sipila founded and then passed on to his sons when he became prime minister to avoid potential conflicts of interest, also owns a 5 percent stake in Katera Steel, according to YLE.

Sipila said Wednesday the Katera Steel contract had been awarded "before the government took its decisions."

In a tweet on Saturday, Finance Minister Petteri Orpo said he was confident Sipila had done nothing wrong. The minister’s National Coalition is one of two parties that support Sipila’s Center Party in government.

The prime minister has also had to defend himself against accusations he harassed a veteran investigative reporter by sending her 17 e-mails within 24 hours. Of these, 12 were forwarded e-mails from citizens responding to YLE’s reporting on Friday, the reporter, Salla Vuorikoski, said in an interview.

"I have never experienced this kind of behavior from a person at a prime minister’s level, it was extraordinary," Vuorikoski said. She also said Sipila never asked her to "stop reporting" the story.

Sipila said on Wednesday he had apologized to YLE’s editor-in-chief, Atte Jaaskelainen.

“My family has had a hard time recently," he told reporters. "For that reason my response was emotional,” Sipila said. “I have had not the slightest intention to restrict freedom of the press or place influence on what content YLE publishes."

Finland has ranked top in the Reporters Without Borders’ press freedom index since 2010.

— With assistance by Leo Laikola

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