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Talvivaara: Finland's biggest environmental crime case returns to court

Finland's most notorious corporate environmental crimes case returned to court on Monday. The founder and owner of the Finnish nickel mine Talvivaara – as well as other leaders of the company – could face massive fines and suspended jail sentences in appeals court.

Talvivaara workers in the mine's gypsum pool. Image: Heikki Rönty / Yle

An environmental crime trial about mining company Talvivaara's past operations began at the Rovaniemi appeals court on Monday.

Under scrutiny in the trial are the construction and use of Talvivaara's gypsum waste pond, alleged scheduled and uncontrolled dumping of effluents into nature, as well as issues surrounding the handling and placement of the mine's various waste components.

Prosecutors claim that Talvivaara bosses committed their first environmental crimes as early as 2004 when the mine was in its planning and building stages.

Multi-million-euro mess

Prosecutors are demanding suspended prison sentences of one year for Talvivaara Mining Company ex-CEO Pekka Perä, 10 months for ex-CEO Harri Natunen and eight months for an unspecified ex-division chief for aggravated environmental degradation. The accused deny the charges.

Additionally prosecutors are calling for Talvivaara Sotkamo to hand over a total of 13.3 million euros acquired via the criminal activities, on top of an outstanding corporate fine of 850,000 euros.

Prosecutor Kimmo Vakkala says the crux of the case lies in the allegation that Talvivaara neither possessed nor communicated correct, accurate information about its mining plans when the company applied for an environmental permit. The permit was granted with incomplete data, but Talvivaara still neglected the permit's conditions and several laws, according to Vakkala.

"Talvivaara is in a class of its own when it comes to the sheer scale of neglect and error, as well as the number of items in clear dispute," Vakkala says.

Perä's lawyer Markus Kokko responds that environmental permits are granted for certain purposes, and this includes the concept that some of the activities in question have an adverse environmental effect. 

New evidence

Vakkala says that new written evidence and witness testimony will be introduced starting on Monday, in addition to evidence that was not sufficiently addressed in the earlier district court case.

"At the time the defence brought in one thousand pages of written evidence, and we had no realistic opportunity to counter that. We have since familiarised ourselves with the documents and will be presenting counter-evidence," Vakkala says.

In May 2016 Kainuu District Court issued fines and commuted some of the charges levelled against three senior Talvivaara Sotkamo managers accused of aggravated environmental crimes. The company had to hand over 3.5 million euros in financial gain it had earned from its activities and 300,000 euros as a separate corporate fine. Other ex-bosses were also fined.