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Prosecutor: Kulmuni's ex-advisor "thought the government's tab was open"

Prosecutors say that the special advisor had the Finance Ministry pay around 13,700 euros for communications training for Katri Kulmuni, who was serving as Finance Minister at the time. Kulmuni is not charged with any offences.

Kari Jääskeläinen  ja Riitta Leppiniemi oikeudessa tammikuussa.
Kari Jääskeläinen (left) appeared in court charged with misusing public funds. Image: Silja Viitala / Yle
Yle News

An advisor to the former Finance Minister Katri Kulmuni (Cen) has appeared in court charged with fraud and breach of his official duties.

Kari Jääskeläinen's alleged offences relate to communications training he procured for his then-boss, Kulmuni.

The prosecutor charges that either by mistake or deliberately, Jääskeläinen had fraudulently asked the Ministry of Finance to pay for communications training for Kulmuni to the value of some 13,700 euros.

Prosecutors are asking for a three-month suspended jail sentence.

Kulmuni herself is not charged with anything.

Prosecutor: Ministry paid for training while Kulmuni was not yet a minister

Kulmuni received communications training from the public relations firm Tekir, paid for by the state, in 2019 and 2020. Altogether some 56,000 euros' worth of training was paid for by the Ministry of Finance and the Ministry for Economic Affairs and Employment.

Special Prosecutor Anja-Riitta Rinkinen said that the Ministry of Finance paid a 13,702 euro bill in its entirety, even though some of that invoice covered a period when Kulmuni had been the Minister for Economic Affairs.

Rinkinen says that the training was given using Finance Ministry funds before Kulmuni started her work as Finance Minister, and before a contract with the ministry had been agreed.

Kulmuni had received training earlier under an agreement with the Ministry for Economic Affairs and Employment.

The ministry and Tekir had agreed in 2019 that the company would give the new minister training in connection with her communication tasks as the Minister for Economic Affairs.

According to the prosecutor, some of the training concerned Kulmuni's work as leader of the Centre Party, even though the ministry's funds should not be used for party-related purposes.

"Jääskeläinen thought that the state would pick up the tab," said Rinkinen.

Jääskeläinen denies charges

Jääskeläinen's lawyer, Riitta Leppiniemi, said that Jääskeläinen denies the charges.

The lawyer said that her client did not have decision-making power in the matter, as the contract had been made by the ministry.

"Bills have gone to the ministry, which has paid them," said Leppiniemi. "All the training was given to Kulmuni for her role as a minister, not for the benefit of the Centre Party."

Leppiniemi said that no conclusions can be drawn from the fact that a minister has other roles — he or she can also be an MP and a party leader.

"From Jääskeläinen's perspective, the situation is puzzling," said Leppiniemi. "When an experienced communications firm gives training, they know what kind of training they're allowed to give, but the legality of Tekir's actions in this are not in question."

Leppiniemi emphasised that all of the training had been provided at Kulmuni's request. She had, according to Leppiniemi, requested help in 2019 after a social media storm over Finnish women in the al-Hol camp in Syria.

Kulmuni had posted an Instagram poll in which she asked whether women and children in al-Hol should be repatriated, or 'just the children' should come to Finland. The reaction from human rights advocates was strongly negative.

Training controversy started in summer 2020

The case hit the headlines in early June 2020, because there were uncertainties over who had decided to pay for the training and what kind of work the ministry can be billed for.

In addition, Kulmuni was suspected of using the training for party leader activities, in addition to ministerial tasks.

Kulmuni said that all her training was concerned with improving her general presentation for her ministerial duties.

Ministry: Jääskeläinen actively ordered training

According to a report by the Ministry for Economic Affairs and Employment, Jääskeläinen was active in ordering extra training without informing administrators at the ministry.

The report said that Jääskeläinen's direction was strong, and he clearly gave the impression that he was acting on the minister's orders. According to Kulmuni, however, he was not.

The report found that Tekir overcharged the ministry. Jääskeläinen said that he did not receive the bills to check them, and he was not sent them afterwards.

Kulmuni said that she only got to know of the whole cost of the training in June 2020.

She resigned as Finance Minister soon after the case came to light. She has said she has repaid the ministry for the cost of the training.

Police did not interview Kulmuni during their investigation, but her actions in the affair were evaluated by the Chancellor of Justice.

Jääskeläinen now works for the Kymi regional chapter of the Finnish Federation of Enterprises.

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