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Disgraced face mask dealer surfaces in Pandora Papers

Onni Sarmaste, known for a botched face mask deal with the state, was found in the Pandora Papers offshore data leak.

Kolme kuvaa Onni Sarmasteen somesta.
Screen captures from Onni Sarmaste's social media accounts. Image: Kuvakaappaukset Onni Sarmasteen Facebook- ja Instagram-tileiltä. Kuvankäsittely: Riikka Kurki / Yle

More than 200 Finnish citizens have been named in the largest financial data leak in history, 20 of whom have criminal convictions. The latest name to emerge in Finland is Onni Sarmaste, a heavily-indebted payday lender.

Sarmaste was the target of a preliminary probe by the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) regarding a deal with the National Emergency Supply Agency (Nesa) that paid him and entrepreneur Tiina Jylhä 10 million euros for a delivery of face masks from China. The masks were later deemed to be unusable. In August the NBI handed the stockpile agency case over to the prosecutor.

Sarmaste's shells

Yle's investigation of the Pandora files revealed that Sarmaste has owned shell companies in Cyprus and the British Virgin Islands. Documents obtained by Yle indicate that Sarmaste made efforts to conceal his ownership of these firms.

The leaked files show Sarmaste had roughly 250,000 euros flowing to his Cyprus-based company annually, with the majority of funds coming from Finland and Switzerland. While Sarmaste told Yle he has no recollection of owning two offshore firms, he has confirmed having a company in Switzerland.

"Not in Finnish tax jurisdiction"

Sarmaste told Yle he lived abroad for long periods in the 2010s, saying he was not within Finnish tax jurisdiction during that time. A person's place of residence is not public information, making this claim difficult to verify.

Between 2010 and 2016 Sarmaste did not report any income in Finland. However despite his debts, Sarmaste's social media accounts suggest a lavish lifestyle.

He marked the 4.9-million-euro windfall from the national stockpile agency Nesa by buying a 500,000-euro Bentley and a Porsche. At the time he owed 46,000 euros in arrears, according to Iltalehti.

In May of 2020, Nesa's boss, Tomi Lounema, resigned over the mask procurement scandal.

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