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Churches cancel concerts over ex-tango star's child sexual abuse charges

The popular entertainer was convicted on narcotics charges last year.

Jari Sillanpää tangolaulukilpailun tuomareiden tiedotustilaisuudessa Seinäjoella 10. heinäkuuta 2019.
The ex-tango singer was a judge at a tango singing competition in Seinäjoki in July this year. Image: Timo Aalto / Lehtikuva

Two churches have announced the cancellation of proposed concerts by former tango star Jari Sillanpää over child sexual abuse charges.

On Friday, best-selling Finnish solo artist Sillanpää was charged with child sex abuse and disseminating indecent images of children.

The suspected abuse is believed to have taken place in August 2017, while the distribution of the indecent material was alleged to have occurred in September 2017. The offences were alleged to have taken place in Helsinki.

On Friday, the Jyväskylä parish of the Lutheran Evangelical Church announced that a concert scheduled for 4 December at the Taulumäki church had been called off.

"As soon as we received the information we began to think of the next steps. We don't want to assume the role of a judge, but these are very serious charges. After due consideration we decided that we would not have the concert," Jyväskylä vicar Arto Viitala said.

He added that other parishes were considering pulling Sillanpää concerts from their Christmas calendars. "It's not certain but it's in the air," Viitala continued.

Another event due to take place at the Ristinkirkko church in Lahti was also cancelled. "You cannot come to sing in a church with these kinds of allegations," Keski-Lahti vicar Miika Hämäläinen commented.

Allegations surfaced last August

Yle first reported on the suspicions of child sexual abuse involving the solo artist in August 2018. Prosecutor Nina Keskinen told Yle that the charges filed are related to the previously reported case. However the charge sheet outlines a more serious offence than originally considered.

According to previous reports, Sillanpää was suspected of being in possession of indecent images. However current charges involve alleged child sexual abuse as well as disseminating indecent photo material.

The case will be heard in the Helsinki district court at the end of February next year. According to the prosecutor, the charges are not related to any other larger cluster of cases.

"It [the case] will likely be heard behind closed doors and the documents will be sealed," Keskinen said.

Singer denies charges

In late summer last year, Sillanpää took to Facebook to say that police had questioned him because devices seized at his home suggested that he was in possession of illegal material. At the time, he said that officers had been able to retrieve from his computer images and videos that he denied having ever seen.

Sillanpää then added that anyone attending the same parties he had participated in could have used his computer.

"I have not had in my possession any offensive material about children," he wrote.

The singer’s lawyer Riitta Leppiniemi told news agency STT that her client denied both charges. She added that the child sexual abuse charges relate to suspicions not linked to physical contact.

"The charges do not contend that Sillanpää had physical contact or physical intercourse with a minor. According to the charge, it [the alleged offence] was about something besides physical contact," Leppiniemi told the agency.

"I can say that Sillanpää denies the charges. Whether or not the act that the prosecutor is alleging meets the criteria for abuse, will be determined in court," she continued.

Child sexual abuse may also be suspected in cases that do not involve touching or sexual contact. For example, sexual messages with someone who is 16 or younger can meet the criterion.

Prosecutor Nina Keskinen told STT that Sillanpää’s charges relate to one victim.

"I can also confirm that the charge has to do with something other than physical contact," she commented.

Autumn concerts planned

The charges have cast a shadow over the fate of other concerts the entertainer has planned this autumn. His calendar includes church concerts in locations such as Fuengirola in Spain as well as Vihti and Helsinki in Finland.

Sillanpää’s concert producer told daily Helsingin Sanomat that a concert scheduled for Saturday in Joensuu as well as the autumn tour will take place as scheduled.

In August last year the Helsinki district court convicted Sillanpää on two narcotics charges and sentenced him to a 10-month suspended prison sentence. The court ruled that the singer had acquired 108 grams of amphetamine and that he had brought another half-gram of methamphetamine to Finland from Thailand.

Sillanpää admitted to using drugs himself and to giving them to his friends for free.

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