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Police probe Green Party mayoral candidate over zoning decision

Meilahti residents accuse Helsinki deputy mayor Anni Sinnemäki of granting a friend a favourable construction permit.

Anni Sinnemäki i stadshuset.
Image: Dennis Storhannus / Yle

Police have launched a probe into Helsinki mayoral candidate and veteran Green Party politician Anni Sinnemäki. The investigation centres on suspected dereliction of duty regarding zoning permits in an area of old villas in Helsinki's Meilahti neighbourhood.

Some Meilahti residents said they suspect Sinnemäki of in 2016 helping her friend acquire a special building permit in the historical area. Sinnemäki denies influencing the permit decision in any way.

Chair of the Helsinki Greens, Outi Lindqvist, said Sinnemäki had the full support of the party, despite the ongoing investigation.

Green Party secretary general Veli Liikanen noted that the party was aware of the criminal investigation before the Greens put Sinnemäki forward as their candidate for the mayor of Helsinki. Liikanen said the party had not seen any reason to publicise the case ahead of the elections as the events had previously been debated publicly.

Special zoning

The dispute hinges on a city permit granting actress Pihla Viitala and her sister the right to build a 200-square-metre semi-detached house in the place of an old 26-square-metre shed on a plot owned by the city of Helsinki. This construction angered some residents who had sought and were denied permission by the city to erect anything on their plots, including small saunas. The city of Helsinki owns the plots in this area, which means it makes all decisions regarding construction.

Sinnemäki is a friend of Viitala and her parents. In 2016, when Sinnemäki was Helsinki deputy mayor, she sat on a board that ruled on the Viitalas' petition to build a new house on their property which sits on city land.

An administrative court has already ruled that the matter did not represent a conflict of interest for Sinnemäki. Plaintiffs have since appealed the decision to the Supreme Administrative Court and requested a preliminary investigation into the matter, which police are now probing.

Former Green MP and Helsinki councillor Osmo Soininvaara said dragging up a five-year-old case was an effort to influence the election.

"It seems pretty surprising that something that is five years old surfaces in public debate two days before the election," Soinivaara, who is also a local election candidate in Helsinki, said.

Soinivaara pointed out that as Helsinki owns the plots in this particular Meilahti neighbourhod, any additional construction means more rental income for the city.

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