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Suspended prison sentences in campaign financing scandal

The Helsinki district court has slapped suspended prison sentences on two former leaders of the Finnish Youth Foundation in a campaign financing scandal.

Antti Kaikkonen & Jukka Vihriälä
Antti Kaikkonen ja Jukka Vihriälä Image: Yle Uutisgrafiikka

Centre Party lawmaker Antti Kaikkonen was handed a five-month suspended prison sentence on Wednesday for abusing his position at the Foundation to raise money for Centre Party candidates.

Jukka Vihriälä, former chairman of the Finnish Slot Machine Association RAY, received an 18-month suspended prison sentence for his role in the affair.

Other defendants in the case had their charges dismissed.

The defendants are accused of paying inflated prices for artwork and books to raise money for candidates, mostly from the Centre Party.

The accused deny all charges. Kaikkonen’s lawyer argued that support for political parties was not forbidden, and that the organisation had to be an influential actor in society.

The prosecutor pointed out that Kaikkonen had acted as both buyer and seller in the transactions, and that his role as an advocate for young people was not a justification for the Youth Foundation’s support for his campaigns.

As chair of the Slot Machine Association Vihriälä allegedly distributed state support to the same foundation that had purchased pricey paintings from him.

Meanwhile Jorma Heikkinen, a former attorney for the Youth Foundation, received a one year suspended prison sentence for aggravated bribery in the case.

The Youth Foundation, a non-profit housing group, has traditionally been directed by Centre Party politicians including former prime minister Matti Vanhanen.

Kaikkonen "disappointed and upset"

Responding to the judgment, Kaikkonen told Yle that he was disappointed and upset by the outcome, adding that he did not yet know whether he would lodge an appeal.

“One reason why I would not appeal would be is that this has already dragged on for years and it would be nice to get over the nuisance on day. But in itself I don’t believe the verdict is right,” Kaikkonen said.

The MP said he did not plan to step down from his parliamentary post, not from his position on the Tuusula city council, even if an appeal failed. He stressed that the Youth Foundation case had been public, even during parliamentary elections in 2011 and municipal elections last year.

“I shall continue to work the same way I have before. For the good of the Uusimaa region and for all of Finland,” he added.

Support from party leader

Meanwhile Centre Party chair Juha Sipilä said it is up to the party’s parliamentary group to decide Kaikkonen’s fate following Wednesday’s verdict.

“I am giving him all the support that I can. This is a difficult situation for him too,” Sipilä told Yle.

The party leader said that Kaikkonen’s performance in the party and the parliamentary group had been above reproach.

Sipilä noted that the verdict in the case did not reflect directly on the party, and added that the party's practice had changed since that time.

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