Transport Minister Anne Berner came under heavy scrutiny this spring when media reported that she had stepped in to halt legal action against the previous management of state-owned airports operator Finavia. The board wanted to haul the departed managers before the courts over risky derivatives trading that lost the firm some 34 million euros between 2009 and 2011.
Speaking at a news conference following the company’s annual general meeting, Berner said that she had not interfered in Finavia’s operational affairs inappropriately.
"I understand that this whole situation has been difficult to understand. I also understand very well that my predecessors haven’t wanted to touch this issue, taking into consideration what has happened. When you start cleaning up a mess, you end up in the middle of it," Berner added.
The former Civil Aviation Administration was rebranded as Finavia in 2010.
Berner: No inappropriate state intervention
Berner noted that an independent corporate law report commissioned by the ministry found that there had been no inappropriate interference according to board guidelines.
"The owner has had justified reasons for concern in the decision making capabilities of the company’s board," Berner explained.
"The owner [the state] responsibly wants to ensure that the company’s decision making process is proper and is based on careful deliberation. The owner has not interfered in the operational affairs of its wholly-owned company in an inappropriate manner," she added. She also said that her predecessor, Paula Risikko, did not attempt to clean up the mess caused by the investments.
Former minister challenges Berner
Risikko later expressed surprise at Berner’s comments implying that she was the first minister to address Finavia’s loss-making investments.
"Berner’s statement was rather unusual," Risikko told Yle on Tuesday afternoon.
"When I became transport minister in 2014, I quickly contacted the then-chair of the Finavia board Soili Suonoja, at which time we thoroughly reviewed the company’s problems. I said that matters had to be comprehensively investigated," Risikko added.
The ex-minister added that she also had extensive discussions about the firm’s situation and the need for additional investigations with Finavia CEO Kari Savolainen on two occasions.
When Suonoja left the board and was replaced by Riitta Tiuranniemi, Risikko said she had the same discussions with Suonoja's successor.
"Tiuranniemi tried to do what I asked," Risikko said.
However Tiuranniemi quit the company after running into differences with Berner over how to deal with Finavia’s problems, Risikko said.
The National Coalition Party politician was transport minister from June 2014 until May 2015.
Several probes underway
Police suspect Finavia’s former finance manager and deputy CEO of committing offences when they got the company involved in the derivatives investments. However no former board members are suspected of any wrongdoing.
Berner said that the management must now take into account decisions made during the police investigation and possible consideration of charges and evaluate the possibility to demand compensation on that basis.
The State Audit Office is to complete a legal assessment of liability issues in Finavia’s derivatives investments in June. Meanwhile the Transport and Communications Ministry said that financial supervisory authorities will complete a report into banks’ role in the investments by late June.
Last autumn Yle reported that Berner, a wealthy Swiss-Finnish business executive, remained on the board of a Luxembourg firm involved in tax planning after taking office as minister a year ago. She adopted Finnish citizenship shortly before joining the cabinet, and joined the Centre Party after her appointment.
Kyllönen also rejects claim
Merja Kyllönen, a Left Alliance politician who served as transport minister between 2011 and 2014, also refuted Berner's assertions on Tuesday. Kyllönen, who is now a European United Left MEP, denied that she had ignored Finavia's investment problems.
"I felt a bit baffled when I heard in the news that [her] predecessors hadn't done anything. I don't know how quickly things should have been pushed ahead, considering that the first firing [of a Finavia executive] came a month after I took over as minister," she told Yle by phone from Strasbourg.