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Transport Minister denies leaked email shows she stopped Finavia legal action

The Finnish news agency STT published an email on Saturday that appears to show the Ministry of Transport prevented legal action by the state-owned aviation firm Finavia over risky derivative investments made by previous managers at the company. Transport Minister Anne Berner continues to deny that she stopped the lawsuit.

Anne Berner Image: Yle

Transport Minister Anne Berner continues to deny that she pressured the board of state-owned airport operator Finavia not to bring legal action against former managers who had made risky derivative investments after the publication by STT of an email that appears to demonstrate just that kind of pressure.

The controversy relates to investments made in 2010 by the state-owned airport operator Finavia, which was formerly the Finnish Civil Aviation Administration. They were risky derivative holdings that were against the company's own guidelines, and they ended up losing Finavia money.

Since then several ministers have asked Finavia to investigate the case and prosecute those responsible, if appropriate. In 2015 there was a sense of urgency as the statute of limitations sets a five-year limit for instigating legal proceedings. After first moving to bring charges in September 2015, Finavia eventually delayed and then decided not to bring a case against those who bought the derivatives.

The EGM that never was

Former Finavia chair Riitta Tiuraniemi resigned her post in December in protest at what she said was undue pressure from Berner to avoid legal action over the derivatives. Berner has consistently denied that claim.

On Saturday the news agency STT reported that the senior civil servant at the ministry had sent an email to the then-chair of Finavia's board on 14 October 2015.

"At the minister's request I notify you that Finavia will hold an extraordinary general meeting in mid-November," wrote Pursiainen. "Before that the company should not proceed in the derivatives case."

Open minded Berner?

That suggested meeting of the shareholders of the 100 percent government-owned firm was never held, and towards the end of the year the board of Finavia voted against legal action.

Minister Berner claims that the email did not express an opinion one way or the other on the possible lawsuit.

"The email was a statement that the company should not launch legal proceedings before there are sufficient investigations," Berner told Yle on Saturday.

Berner says that Finavia is a valued government company that should not bring serious charges based on flimsy evidence. In September 2015 the Finavia board had voted to bring the charges, although three board members submitted a dissenting opinion.

Parliament to investigate

The minister blames Finavia's leadership for not producing the reports in time to hold the proposed extraordinary general meeting, and says that the board could still have voted one way or the other at the December board meeting that voted unanimously to drop the case.

Berner said that the leaked email contained nothing new, and it had been sent to the National Audit Office. Those auditors had in June published a damning report on the case themselves.

Former chair Tiuraniemi told Yle that she maintains the view that she and the Finavia board were directed by Berner to avoid lawsuits in December 2015. Whether Berner had ordered charges to be dropped or strongly recommended that course of action is a matter of semantics, according to Tiuraniemi.

Parliament's Audit Committee is to begin hearings on the case on Tuesday.