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Emergency Supply Agency officials suspended over mask debacle

An external probe of the case is to wrap up on Tuesday.

Huoltovarmuuskeskuksen toimitusjohtajan Tomi Louneman tviittaama kuva Finnairin lentokoneesta, joka toi kirurgisia maskeja (2 milj. kpl) ja hengityksensuojaimia (230 000 kpl) Kiinan Quangzhousta, Helsinki-Vantaan lentokentällä 7. huhtikuuta 2020.
On 7 April, then-CEO Tomi Lounema tweeted this picture of two million masks from China being unloaded from a Finnair plane. Image: Huoltovarmuuskeskus

Two senior officials at the National Emergency Supply Agency (Nesa) have been suspended over a furore involving sub-standard face masks.

Nesa’s board of directors made the announcement on Monday following meetings on Saturday and Sunday. The officials are to remain off the job pending the results of an external investigation. That audit is to be completed on Tuesday.

Nesa operates under the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment, which on Friday announced that Janne Känkänen was taking over as interim CEO.

He replaced former chief Tomi Lounema, who stepped down on Friday after shortcomings were found in the procurement of protective equipment.

Earlier in the day, Prime Minister Sanna Marin’s office issued a statement saying that she no longer had confidence in Lounema.

Hakola signed questionable contract

The two suspended on Monday were Asko Harjula, Deputy Director General, Administration, and Jyrki Hakola, Director, Industry.

Last year, Harjula served as interim CEO between the departure of the previous chief in June and Lounema’s appointment in November. Lounema had worked for the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment for a decade following a decade at the Competition and Consumer Authority.

According to the news agency STT, Hakola signed the contract whereby Nesa ordered a batch of face masks that turned out to be unsuitable for hospital use. The deal was signed with Onni Sarmaste, a businessman who ran a quickie loan company before running heavily into debt himself. Sarmaste insists that Nesa knew full well what kind of masks it was ordering.

Last Thursday it emerged that the agency had also ordered masks from Tiina Jylhä, a beauty-sector entrepreneur and convicted white-collar criminal.

STT says that order is on ice because an Estonian bank has frozen the funds transferred from Nesa to Jylhä. The contract is still valid, according to her lawyer, Kari Uoti, who himself has been convicted of white-collar crimes.

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