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Chancellor of Justice: No legal basis for Marin's 'breakfastgate' allowance

PM Sanna Marin (SDP) is not suspected of any wrongdoing, but the Prime Minister's Office has received a reprimand for its handling of the expenses.

Prime Minister Sanna Marin (SDP). Image: Tiina Jutila / Yle
Yle News

The Office of the Chancellor of Justice has reprimanded the Prime Minister's Office over its handling of free meal benefits that Prime Minister Sanna Marin (SDP) received at her official residence in Helsinki.

A minor scandal — which was referred to at the time as 'breakfastgate' — surrounded the Prime Minister last year following reports she and members of her family had received meal benefits they may not have been entitled to.

Although the Prime Minister's Office received the reprimand, Marin herself was not suspected of any wrongdoing and has since repaid the cost of the benefit to the Finnish state.

In its decision delivered on Monday, the Chancellor of Justice said the Prime Minister's Office breached the law in relation to ministerial benefits when it arranged for breakfast supplies and cold meals to be provided to the Prime Minister and her family as official residence services.

"In our view, there was no legal basis for the practice," Deputy Chancellor of Justice Petri Martikainen said in a signed statement.

Meal benefit could undermine public confidence

The Prime Minister's Office had begun providing the supplies as a ministerial benefit in January 2020 and the practice was continued until May 2021, when reports by tabloid Iltalehti revealed that the provision was costing the taxpayer about 850 euros per month.

The Chancellor of Justice, which monitors the legality of ministers' actions, considered in its verdict that the value of the meals received by Marin and her family was "relatively significant".

According to estimates provided by the Prime Minister's Office, an estimated 14,000 euros was spent on these meals in the 18 months between January 2020 and May 2021.

The actions by the Prime Minister's Office were therefore considered by the Chancellor of Justice as having the potential to undermine public confidence in the activities of the public authorities and the proper use of public funds.

In addition, there was also an economic factor involved, the Chancellor of Justice's statement noted.

"However, in my view, since Marin has repaid the cost of the services to the Council of State, the State has not suffered any financial loss in this case," Martikainen said.

Prime Minister had right to trust officials

In reaching its decision, the Chancellor of Justice also requested clarification from PM Marin.

In response, Marin said that neither she nor her staff were aware of any legal ambiguities regarding the meal benefits before the matter became public in May 2021.

The Office therefore found that Marin did not break the law in this case, as she was entitled to trust the information provided to her by her officials in relation to the meal provisions.

"Nothing has been raised in the case which, in my view, should have led Prime Minister Marin to question the lawfulness of the information she received or the instructions given by the officials," Martikainen noted.

The Chancellor of Justice's statement also emphasised that Marin was not suspected of any wrongdoing.

Instead, the Deputy Chancellor of Justice has sent a letter of formal notice to the Prime Minister's Office.

Police: No evidence of crime

In the spring of 2021, Helsinki police launched a preliminary probe into the use of the meal benefits.

The objective of the preliminary probe was to determine if there was reasonable suspicion to believe that a crime had been committed and a wider investigation started.

According to a police statement at the time, the probe did not reveal any evidence that any crime had been committed.

However, the Chancellor of Justice's verdict published on Monday has ruled that the Prime Minister's Office violated the law.

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