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Bribery charges dropped against Finnair CEO

Deputy state prosecutor Jorma Kalske has decided not to file corruption charges against Finnair CEO Mika Vehviläinen.

Finnair board member Harri Kerminen, CEO Mika Vehviläinen and chair Harri Sailas at last spring's annual general meeting.
Finnair board member Harri Kerminen, CEO Mika Vehviläinen and chair Harri Sailas at last spring's annual general meeting. Image: Yle

Police had suspected the national airline chief of accepting business bribes. Early last year, the pensions firm Ilmarinen -- whose CEO Harri Sailas is Finnair's chairman of the board -- bought Vehviläinen's 1.8 million euro flat. He continued to live in it, with Finnair paying his rent of some 6,800 euros a month. This apparently brought him considerable tax benefits.

Finnair is Ilmarinen's biggest pensions customer, while Vehviläinen was at the time a member of its board. He and Sailas have denied any wrongdoing.

"Police suspected that Ilmarinen would have purchased the apartment that was later rented to Vehviläinen to gain partnership in Nordic Global Airlines, where Finnair has majority ownership," said deputy state prosecutor Jorma Kalske.

A preliminary police investigation found no connection between the Finnair CEO's housing arrangements and founding ownership in the cargo airline.

Vehviläinen learns 'hard lesson'

“I have learned the hard way that it is not enough to follow legislation, but one must also consider ethical viewpoints and how things may look," said Vehviläinen in a statement. "I have been served a hard lesson and learned from it. It the future, I will consider things from a wider perspective.”

Following the decision, Harri Sailas is set to remain at the helm of the Finnair board of directors. Former Finnair board chair and cabinet minister Christoffer Taxell and Ilmarinen deputy CEO Timo Ritakallio were also under suspicion, but charges will not be brought against them either.

Good old boys

Critics say the deal is a textbook example of how Finland's 'old boy network' operates. The government minister in charge of state-owned companies, Heidi Hautala of the Greens, had said that if authorities decided to bring charges against Vehviläinen, he would have to step down.

Hautala told Yle that still regards the deal as reproachable, despite the prosecutor's decision not to bring charges. She denied reacting too fast to the sale when she previously said Vehviläinen would have to step down if charged.

”It would have been strange if I had not offered an opinion, when asked what would happen if there were charges,” said Hautala.

Last spring Hautala forced Finnair's board to resign following revelations of controversial 'stay bonuses' secretly paid to top executives. The bonuses, paid over the course of year and a half to 18 managers, totalled 2.8 million euros -- while the airline's rank-and-file employees faced job, wage and benefit cuts.

Harri Sailas' brother Raimo, meanwhile, is the highest-ranking civil servant at the Finance Ministry.

Finnair is a majority state-owned company.

The business magazine Talouselämä was the first to report the news.

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