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New US ambassador takes over in Helsinki

Incoming American ambassador Robert Pence is a wealthy businessman, Republican campaign donor and literary scholar.

Susan and Robert Pence spoke to reporters on 21 May outside the US Embassy in the Kaivopuisto neighbourhood. Image: Antti Aimo-Koivisto / Lehtikuva

The United States again has an ambassador in Helsinki after a 16-month gap. Virginia businessman Robert Pence arrived in Finland over the weekend and began work on Monday. He is to present his credentials to President Sauli Niinistö on Thursday.

Pence – no relation to Vice President Mike Pence – is a real estate developer without political or diplomatic experience. He has been a major financial backer of Republican candidates, making 383,000 dollars in political donations during 2016.

Pence has also been a patron of the arts, serving on the board of Washington’s Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts among other posts.

‘Bob’ Pence and his wife Susan met with members of the Helsinki press corps on Monday, but did not take any questions.

Post vacant since Trump inauguration

Besides being the founder and chair of a real estate development company, Pence holds a doctorate in law and multiple master’s degrees from American University as well as two master’s degrees in Italian from Yale University. Pence told the Yale Daily News last autumn that he planned to complete his Ph.D. thesis on the Italian poet Dante by this May.

He succeeds Charles C. Adams, who served as ambassador from mid-2015 until Trump took office on January 20, 2017. Holding the post before Adams was Bruce Oreck, who remained in Helsinki after his six-year stint. Oreck is now engaged in a dispute with the Finnish State Railways VR over thwarted plans to convert a former VR building into a cultural and business centre.