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Minister apologises, admits to misleading statements on Belgian tax planning company

Foreign Trade and Development Minister Lenita Toivakka has publicly apologised for misleading the Parliament by saying that she had nothing to do with establishing a Belgian holding company for a family business. Toivakka had previously accused SDP MP Timo Harakka of lying when he claimed that the family business had set up the holding company for tax planning purposes.

Lenita Toivakka.
Foreign Trade and Development Minister Lenita Toivakka. Image: Petteri Paalasmaa / AOP

On Thursday morning Foreign Trade and Development Minister Lenita Toivakka issued a public apology on MTV’s breakfast programme Good Morning Finland (Huomenta Suomi), saying that she had mislead the public by claiming that she was not involved in a family business when it set up a holding company in Belgium.

Toivakka’s climb-down followed statements by SDP MP Timo Harakka in Parliament Tuesday, when he accused Toivakka of involvement in setting up a holding company in Belgium for tax planning purposes. At the time Toivakka, who is a National Coalition MP, heatedly denied the claims and accused Harakka of lying to the Parliament. Toivakka insisted that she was not in any way personally involved in setting up the Belgian holding company.

However on Yle’s A-Studio current affairs discussion programme Wednesday night, Harakka - a former Yle talk show host - repeated his claim that Toivakka had played a role in establishing the shadow company. He referenced Finnish corporate law to back up his allegations and produced a sheaf of documents, which he said proved "in black and white" that Toivakka did have a hand in the business.

Timo Harakka
Timo Harakka Image: Yle

"Lenita Toivakka established – as she herself has admitted – a tax planning company in Belgium. She was a board member of the company that established this [holding] company. According to the Finnish Limited Liability Companies Act she was then responsible for setting up this kind of company," Harakka charged.

Toivakka’s NCP colleague, long-standing MP Ben Zyskowicz immediately leapt to her defence on the programme, pointing out that she was not present to defend herself against Harakka’s accusations.

"In my view it’s not really fair that Timo Harakka is here [on A-studio] bringing evidence to support his claims and Lenita Toivakka isn’t here," Zyskowicz said.

Harakka pointed out that a similar incident in which Finance Minister and NCP MP Alexander Stubb mislead the Parliament with inaccurate data had resulted in a public apology, an apology in Parliament and a parliamentary discussion.

Toivakka apologises but maintains hands are clean

However on Thursday morning Toivakka acknowledged her involvement in the family business and apologised during an appearance on the MTV breakfast show.

"The truth is that juridically and nominally, because at that time I was still a board member, I am responsible for all of the decisions the company made," Toivakka admitted.

However the minister stressed that she had not been involved in the day-to-day operations of the family business, nor had she personally played any role in setting up the holding company in Belgium.

"I apologise if I have been misleading about my role by saying that I was not involved, because of course if you look at the matter juridically, I was a board member of the company and responsible for all of its actions," she added.

"I am sorry and I apologise that I have been misleading with this statement," Toivakka repeated.

The minister said that the Belgian company had been established at a time then the shopping centre in which Toivakka’s company was part owner, was due to be sold to an overseas buyer. However the deal fell through.

Toivakka also apologised to Timo Harakka for using inappropriate language in the Parliament. Accusing a member of parliament of lying is a violation of parliamentary etiquette.

Last autumn, Yle reported that Minister of Transport and Communications Anne Berner was on the board of a Luxembourg firm set up to help avoid taxes.

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