On Thursday an appeals court in Rovaniemi, Finnish Lapland, toughened the conviction of Talvivaara Mining CEO Pekka Perä on environmental crime charges. The court found Perä guilty of aggravated environmental degradation, whereas a lower court had handed down a conviction on environmental degradation. The case centred on a series of major leaks from wastewater ponds dedicated to holding effluent from mining operations between 2006 and 2013.
In 2016, the Kainuu District Court slapped a group of three former Talvivaara managers with fines after finding them guilty of environmental crimes. That sentence was appealed by all of the original defendants, as well as the prosecution and the Kainuu Centre for Economic Development, Transport and the Environment, which oversees the mine.
However, in Thursday’s ruling the court handed ex-chief executive and former board chair Perä a stiffer conviction for aggravated environmental degradation. The court also sentenced Perä to a six-month suspended prison sentence.
Prosecution satisfied with verdict
Prosecutor Kimmo Vakkala said that he was satisfied with the change of the conviction against Perä.
“The charge was aggravated on the part of all four defendants. If you are acquainted with case law and the kinds of cases that have resulted in convictions for aggravated environmental degradation, then the prosecution’s call for [stiffer] sentencing seems justified,” Vakkala commented.
The court of appeal upheld a 60-day fine imposed on a former mine director by the district court. A former CEO who held the post for seven months was sentenced to a 100-day fine. Meanwhile the court dismissed all charges against a division manager. The Rovaniemi court also increased a corporate fine levied against the company to 500,000 euros.
Defence: ruling contradicts legal principles
The prosecution had previously asked the appeal court for a tougher sentence for Perä, but the mining man’s defence team say they plan to appeal the ruling to the Supreme Court.
”We are disappointed with the appeal court’s sentence. Talvivaara’s mining operations were conducted with a valid environmental permit, and none of the conditions of the permit was violated. We believe that the appeal court’s ruling and its reasoning contradict the general principles of criminal law, such as the principle of legality,” said Perä’s defence lawyer, Markus Kokko.
Perä’s defence team said that it will seek permission to appeal the conviction and sentence to the Supreme Court. Perä and other Talvivaara senior managers have consistently denied all of the charges brought against them.
“The appeal court verdict contains such a number of new and surprising legal interpretations that their legitimacy should be evaluated in a higher court,” Kokko added.
According to Kokko, if the case does advance to a higher court, the interpretation of the environmental degradation charges and its principle of legality will have to be considered.
The defendants had called on the Rovaniemi court to order the state to pay their legal expenses – a total of some 3.8 million euros, but the judge rejected that petition. However the court ruled that the state should pay legal expenses for the division manager who was cleared of all charges.