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NBI wraps up face mask acquisition probe, 2 suspected of aggravated fraud

The highly publicised debacle prompted the resignation of the National Emergency Supply Agency's CEO last year.

en maskin som lagar munskydd.
File photo of face masks being manufactured. Image: Linus Westerlund / Yle
Yle News

The National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) said on Tuesday it has closed a preliminary investigation into a case involving the state stockpile agency's acquisition of millions of euros worth of faulty protective face masks at the beginning of the global pandemic last year.

The law enforcement agency said that the case was now being handed over to the prosecutor, but the NBI did not reveal the identities of the two individuals suspected of aggravated fraud.

The NBI opened a preliminary investigation into the matter in April 2020, in which the National Emergency Supply Agency (Nesa) paid businessman Onni Sarmaste and entrepreneur Tiina Jylhä 10 million euros for a delivery of face masks from China to be used by healthcare workers.

However the masks turned out to be faulty and taken out of use shortly after reports of allergic reactions caused by the personal protection devices. Later, the VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland determined that the masks did not meet the standards for hospital use.

Jylhä's legal representative, Kari Uoti, has previously said that his client was not a suspect in the face mask case.

However, after the investigation began Sarmaste told Yle that there were "indications" that he was a suspect and acknowledged that he had been detained by police.

Previously, Sarmaste operated an instant-loan company before running heavily into debt himself.

On Tuesday the NBI's chief investigator in the case, Mikko Laaksonen, explained that the results of the preliminary probe clarified whether the face mask providers had given incorrect or inadequate information to Nesa which would have been relevant to the procurement decision as well as damaging to the agency.

Helsinki District Court previously extended the deadline for filing charges in the case to August of this year.

Other charges that police separately investigated in the case were dropped due to lack of evidence, including aggravated money laundering, embezzlement and abuse of trust, according to the NBI.

Last spring, the NBI announced that a separate investigation into the purchase of the faulty masks was being forwarded to prosecutors, and that three Nesa employees were suspected of official abuse of trust.

The highly publicised debacle prompted the resignation of the National Emergency Supply Agency's managing director, Tomi Lounema, last year.

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