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Elusive businessman ordered to appear in multimillion-euro car dealership case

The court says it will dismiss the case if the elusive businessman does not show up for the hearing.

Markku Ritaluoma oikeudessa videon välityksellä 10. huhtikuuta.
The man behind the failed business venture, Markku Ritaluoma, participated in a previous court hearing via a dodgy Skype connection. Image: Timo Leponiemi / Yle

The Turku Court of Appeal has called on the businessman appealing a multimillion-euro damages ruling to appear in court for the start of the hearing, which began on Tuesday.

Markku Ritaluoma, the man behind an ambitious but failed plan to build Europe’s largest auto showroom in Hämeenlinna, is appealing a lower court ruling ordering him to return 6.2 million euros from the bankruptcy estate of the failed Sunny Car Center.

However the appeal court in Turku wants the former CEO of the infamous enterprise to appear for the hearing in person, according to local paper Hämeen Sanomat. Ritaluoma participated in previous hearings remotely from the United States.

The appeal court has said however, that the scale of the case is so extensive that Ritaluoma must physically attend the hearing. Court documents detail 35 separate financial transactions over a period of several years, amounting to the 6.2 million euros that Ritaluoma allegedly pocketed and was ordered to repay. The main hearing in the lower court lasted exceptionally long for such a matter – a total of six days plus three additional reserve days.

The appellate court said that the case turns on Ritaluoma’s actions and noted that he is the only one who can explain them. Additionally during a lower court hearing, the Skype connection in use was unreliable due to technical problems. As a result the Turku court said that Ritaluoma should participate in the main hearing or face the possibility of having his appeal dismissed in his absence.

For his part Ritaluoma has told the appeal court that he will not appear in person for the hearing. However his legal counsel has said that there is no legal reason why his client should not attend.

A long-running scandal

Sunny Car Center went bankrupt in autumn 2015, following which investors have attempted to recover their funds from the bankruptcy estate.

Ritaluoma as well as the former board member of the showroom venture and ex-Hämeenlinna city council chair, Iisakki Kiemunki, appealed the sentences handed down to them by the Häme District Court in April 2018. At the time, the court ordered Ritaluoma to repay the missing 6.2 million euros to the bankruptcy estate and Kiemunki was called upon to pay 350,000 euros in damages.

The complainant in the case against Kiemunki and Ritaluoma was the Sunny Car Center bankruptcy estate. It claimed that Ritaluoma had taken the money, so it was no longer available to creditors. Kiemunki was found guilty of being negligent and passive during his tenure as Sunny Car Center board chair and thereby facilitating the withdrawal of the funds.

Both men denied the allegations made by the bankruptcy estate. In addition to the damages cases, the public administrator assigned to the venture’s bankruptcy estate filed a criminal complaint over millions of euros that went missing from the company. An investigation began in 2017, with authorities considering charges of aggravated debtor fraud and aggravated accounting offences.

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