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PM Sipilä on recent freedom of press row: “I considered resigning”

Prime Minister Juha Sipilä appeared on Yle's morning programme Saturday to explain why he has a difficult time trusting the media and to clear up misunderstandings about his personal assets. He says he was close to resigning on the heels of the recent conflict-of-interest accusations.

Pääministeri Juha Sipilä Ykkösaamun vierana 10. joulukuuta.
Finland's Prime Minister Juha Sipilä on December 10. Image: Yle

Finnish premier Juha Sipilä was a guest on the Finnish Broadcasting Company Yle's Ykkösaamu programme Saturday morning, where he explained his view of recent conflict of interest and press limitation claims.

The prime minister revealed in the interview that he had even considered resigning after the tumultuous events of the last few weeks.

“If I didn't have such a clear vision on how to save our welfare state, I’d probably have left ages ago,” Sipilä says.

Indignant e-mails

He refers to an exchange of emails between Prime Minister Juha Sipilä and an Yle journalist late Friday November 25 over an Yle report on a possible conflict of interest that arose when his government decided to inject 100 million euros in the state-owned Terrafame mine, and two weeks later, the mine selected a steel company owned by the PM’s extended family to fulfil a contract worth 500,000 euros.

He ended up sending between 17 and 20 indignant e-mails to Yle late that night, arguing that he wasn’t given a fair chance to comment on the report, ultimately writing that his confidence in the public broadcaster was zero.

Sipilä wrote in his blog the next day that “I don’t have any information on the company’s business, and I can’t ask all of my relatives to not work because I’m the prime minister.”

On Saturday morning, he told Ykkösaamu that he has no desire to limit freedom of the press, but says he is bothered by what he sees as unfair coverage that puts unnecessary emphasis on his personal fortune, his successful business history and his religious beliefs.

Still dodging claims of tax evasion

On Saturday, Sipilä argued again he couldn’t be more transparent about his business and investment activities if he tried. He told Yle that he feels the media has created a false impression of his insurance savings, for example, saying that his contributions to an insurance policy are in effect “a savings account that generates nominal interest.”

The prime minister has also made investments in the Nordea Capital Private fund, another form of savings where taxes are only paid on potential winnings when the money is removed from the account. The minimum investment in the fund is 250,000 euros.

He brought this up because in 2015, a Social Democrat MP accused him of using the account for tax evasion. Finland’s Ministry of Finance tax unit has also determined that investment portfolios that defer tax payments are problematic.

“If the tax division of the ministry is of the opinion that a change is needed, I have no problem with it. We are going to assess tax issues in our mid-term review, and if a suggestion to change this comes up, I can guarantee I won’t protest,” Sipilä said.

Sipilä said he had listed all of his investments and their history on his blog on Friday December 9 in the name of full transparency.

Death threats as a result

As for his relations’ connections to the mine, the Prime Minister said again that he sees no conflict of interest. The investment firm his children own, named Fortel Invest, owns five percent of Katera Steel, the company that won the Terrafame tender.

”My kids have been owners in the company for the last 20 years and they will continue to be. This happened when my wife and I relinquished our shares in the firm to them,” he explains.

Sipilä said he received death threats after news broke of his family members' lucrative deal with the Terrafame mining company.

The Prime Minister's possible conflict of interest is currently being investigated by the Chancellor of Justice and the Parliamentary Ombudsman.

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