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Prosecutor drops mask procurement charges against stockpile bosses

The charges related to the agency's procurement of faulty personal protective equipment (PPE) worth about 5 million euros in March 2020.

Huoltovarmuuskeskuksen varmuusvarasto
File photo of a National Emergency Supply Agency (NESA) warehouse. Image: Huoltovarmuuskeskus
Yle News

A prosecutor has decided not to proceed with charges against three former officials of the national stockpile agency NESA over the procurement of faulty masks at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic.

The abuse of an official position charges against the agency's former Managing Director Tomi Lounema, former Administrative Director Asko Harjula and former Department Manager Jyrki Hakola involved the acquisition of approximately 5 million euros worth of respirators and surgical masks in March 2020.

Harjula and Hakola were fired by the agency over the failed purchase, while Lounema resigned.

In spring 2020, as the pandemic was taking hold in Finland, the National Emergency Supply Agency (NESA) agreed to purchase two million masks and 230,000 high-grade respirators from payday loan operator Onni Sarmaste and plastic surgery business owner Tiina Jylhä in a deal worth a total of about 10 million euros.

However, the VTT Technical Research Centre lab in Tampere found that the equipment did not meet minimum standards for use in Finnish hospitals and the amounts were found to be less than promised.

Despite this, the agency paid Sarmaste's company about 5 million euros for the equipment while the initial payment to Jylhä’s company was frozen by her bank.

However, in its ruling the prosecutor said that, based on the preliminary investigation, there was no evidence to suspect any crime had been committed by the agency's officials.

Former Managing Director Lounema said at the time of his resignation he regretted that there had not been enough time to conduct a comprehensive background check on the parties offering the equipment, due to the urgency of the unfolding crisis.

In a statement from Lounema's lawyer following the prosecutor's ruling, the former managing director stated that the agency was forced to adjust its normal procurement procedures in order to hurriedly obtain the equipment in a very difficult market situation.

The statement added that the agency officials brought all information related to the deal to the attention of the ministries as well as the agency's board. There were no objections or comments on the deal until the matter was reported in the media, the statement added.

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