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Foreign Ministry puts Finnbay on ice

Finland’s Foreign Ministry has removed online links to the English-language news site Finnbay following concerns over its reporting of Finland-Russia relations. On Monday the Foreign Ministry said it would re-evaluate the news site’s content.

Kuvakaappaus Finnbay-nettisivustosta.
The English-language news site Finnbay has come under intense scrutiny for its reporting on Finnish-Russian relations. Image: Yle Uutisgrafiikka

The Foreign Ministry review of Finnbay’s website content followed an apparent tiff between Finland’s Ambassador to Russia and the news organisation over reporting on Finland’s relations with Russia. Finnish authorities were particularly interested in a Finnbay report stating that Finland would continue cooperation with Russia regardless of the views of the European Union and the United States.

Ambassador Hannu Himanen tweeted a warning that the website was not to be trusted, prompting the appraisal.

The Ministry decided to remove a link to the Finnbay news site from its "This is Finland" pages, which provide information about Finland to non-residents, and which also provides links to other English-language news sources.

The Ministry specifically cited the site’s reporting on relations between Finland and Russia as the reason for removing the link.

According to communications director Keijo Norvanto it would be regrettable for information about Finland that is misleading or open to interpretation to be disseminated abroad. Norvanto said however that the Ministry does not have the resources to systematically monitor everything that’s written about Finland.

Further investigations by Yle into the Finnbay website have revealed that the information provided by the site’s owners is not what it appears to be.

Apart from denials from companies purported to be trusted partners, an address for the company’s head office led Yle reporters to a dead end..

Head office not at given address

Finnbay lists its head office address in the European Union’s transparency register as Esplanadi 35 in Helsinki. There is no such address in Helsinki.

Yle reporters visited an address at Pohjoisesplanadi 35, but found no Finnbay office after going through all of the offices in the building. Not only was Finnbay nowhere to be found, but there was no business that purported to work in media or communications. Instead reporters found a beauty salon, an investment company and a summertime restaurant courtyard.

Not to be deterred, Yle reporters also tried to find an address at Eteläesplanadi 35, but no such address exists either.

Russian backing refuted

Finnbay reported that one of its collaboration partners is the Russian-language Novosti Helsinki paper. Irina Tabakova, chief of executive of 12 Chairs Ltd -- which publishes the monthly periodical -- acknowledged that Novosti Helsinki articles had been published on the Finnbay site.

Tabakova said she had worked with Onur Yalcintas, said to be the brains behind the Finnbay operation. Yalcintas did not respond to any of Yle’s attempts to contact him.

Tabakova said that Finnbay’s writers were a group of enthusiastic hobbyists who want to report on Finland in English. Tabakova stressed that Finnbay does not receive any kind of support from the Russian government.

“They don’t have any money, all their articles are done by volunteers,” Tabakova said.

Tabakova added that Novosti Helsinki received 9,200 euros in support from Pravfond, a foundation of the Russian Foreign Ministry.

Credit card payments registered in the United States

Finnbay’s journalistic content resides behind a pay wall, and customers must pay for read rights. A one-month subscription costs five euros, while an annual subscription costs 52 euros.

When Yle subscribed for content, it found that the payment was transferred to a company called Finnbay Tinypass registered in New York. Credit card payments processer Luottokunta said this means that the company is managing payments through the Finnbay Tinypass name.

Finnbay Tinypass is registered as a bookshop but Luottokunta said it could not provide any further information.

"Taxable income must be declared"

Yle found no record of any company named Finnbay in the Finnish companies’ register. On Sunday Finnbay said that it did not need to pay taxes and was not registered as a business in Finland since annual incomes fell below taxable limit of 8,000 euros.

Jari Salokoski of the Finnish Tax Administration Vero said that Finnbay’s position holds true with respect to Value Added Tax. He explained that companies must pay VAT if their turnover reaches or exceeds 8,500 euros per year.

However he pointed out that there is no lower limit for paying income taxes -- individuals, businesses and any other bodies receiving an income must declare their taxable income. If Finnbay’s head office really is located in Helsinki as advertised on the company website, then it is subject to Finnish tax laws.

Salokoski said that he could not comment on Finnbay’s tax liabilities since the advertised address – Esplanadi 35 – does not exist in Finland. According to Salokoski a foreign business with no fixed place of abode in Finland would not be a taxable entity.

“Finnbay may be maintained from any country in the world and anybody could be behind it. It’s also possible that the owners may be declaring any taxable income to the tax authorities in their own names,” Salokoski added.

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