IS: PM Marin 'loses confidence' in agency boss behind bungled mask deals

Tomi Lounema admitted paying millions of euros for substandard equipment.

Pääministeri Sanna Marin on sosialidemokraattien ensimmäinen varapuheenjohtaja. Marin saapui eilen Säätytalolle kehysriiheen. Image: Lauri Heikkinen / Valtioneuvoston kanslia

The head of Finland’s national emergency stockpiles faced strengthening calls for his resignation on Good Friday after Prime Minister Sanna Marin told a newspaper she no longer has confidence in his management of the agency.

Tomi Lounema admitted on Thursday that he had spent ten million euros buying masks from Onni Sarmaste, a heavily-indebted payday lender, and Tiina Jylhä, a reality TV star and beautician based in Estonia.

The funds heading to Jylhä were frozen by her bank, and no masks were delivered. Sarmaste received the money and delivered masks, but they were not up to the standard required for use in Finnish hospitals.

"The National Emergency Supply Agency operates under the Ministry for Economic Affairs and Employment and Minister of Employment Tuula Haatainen will assess the Managing Director’s position based on the explanations she has requested. The Managing Director no longer has the Prime Minister’s confidence," IS reported Marin as saying.

Haatainen had said on Thursday that she would seek an explanation over the affair.

On Friday she reiterated in a tweet that she wants further information regarding the face mask acquisition process, noting she was unsatisfied with the information provided so far.

Lounema admitted the mistakes at a press conference on Thursday evening, saying he regretted what had happened.

He said that due to the drastic shortage of personal protective equipment worldwide, the agency needed to move quickly and had been unable to check the backgrounds of the suppliers before signing the contracts and making the payments.

When Lounema was asked Thursday evening who would take responsibility for the incident, he said it was the agency and, ultimately, himself.