Court clears Helsinki deputy mayor of influencing zoning decision

Local residents had complained that veteran Green Party politician Anni Sinnemäki influenced the decision to grant a special building permit to an acquaintance.

The legal dispute relates to the granting of zoning permits in an area of old villas in Helsinki's Meilahti neighbourhood. Image: Jaani Lampinen / Yle

Helsinki's Deputy Mayor and veteran Green Party politician Anni Sinnemäki was cleared of a dereliction of duty charge by the Supreme Administrative Court on Wednesday.

The charges had related to the granting of zoning permits in an area of old villas in Helsinki's Meilahti neighbourhood, as some local residents said they suspected Sinnemäki of helping her friend Pihla Viitala acquire a special building permit in the historical area in 2016.

However, the court ruled that the relationship between Sinnemäki and Viitala — an actor who co-owns the property with her sister — was not so close that it would have prevented the deputy mayor from participating in the decision to grant the permit.

According to Finland's Administrative Procedure Act and Local Government Act, a councillor may be prevented from involvement in a matter under city or council consideration if it concerns a person who is particularly close to him or her. This generally means a family member or other close relative.

Several complaints were made to the Supreme Administrative Court about Sinnemäki's involvement in the granting of the permit, alleging that she and Viitala were close friends. Viitala's participation in Sinnemäki's election campaign was cited as an example of their close relationship, as well as their connection on social media.

The complaints led to police opening a preliminary investigation into the matter in June.

Sinnemäki and Viitala rarely met

Sinnemäki denied that she was close friends with Viitala, but rather had a wide circle of acquaintances which included Viitala.

Viitala had also been married to Sinnemäki's former husband.

However, the court ruled that this did not affect their acquaintanceship, and that they generally only met about once a year or less.

On this basis, the higher court upheld the ruling of the administrative court, which previously found that the matter did not represent a conflict of interest for Sinnemäki.