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Tuesday's papers: Domestic violence precedent, murderer suspected of fraud, Tampere's new rehab programme

Papers carry news of violent crimes as well as a move to treat substance abuse problems without drugs.

Suomen lakikirja ja nuija
An assault precedent and fraud charges are in the news, as was a novel way to help drug addicts kick the habit. Image: Arja Lento / Yle

Helsingin Sanomat on Tuesday carried news of a first-time legal precedent: charges of assault can now be considered aggravated and criminal penalties heightened if the violence occurs within a domestic relationship. Finnish law does not separately specify an intimate partnership as cause to harden assault charges.

On Monday the Supreme Court of Finland (KKO) upheld an increase to the sentence of a 50-year-old man after his aggravated assault case was heard in district and appeal courts.

In 2016 the man invaded the home of his ex-spouse, pulling her hair and stabbing her in the abdomen with a knife when she tried to escape. The victim's injuries were severe, but the perpetrator avoided an attempted manslaughter charge due to assistance he provided by calling an ambulance and aiding the victim on site, HS reported. The man was sentenced to a total of six years and four months imprisonment.

Those convicted of aggravated assault potentially face one to 10 years imprisonment, at the court's discretion. However, the actual average sentences handed down for such crimes ranges from conditional sentences of around 14 months to 23.9 month unconditional prison terms, according to Statistics Finland data.

KKO has previously handed down harsher sentences based on the close nature of the relationship between an attacker and victim, but only in rare cases or in situations where the victim was dependent on the perpetrator for special protection.

HS also cites the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), which holds that member states have a responsibility to protect victims of domestic abuse in criminal law.

What's more, Finland in 2015 ratified the Council of Europe's Istanbul Convention for "action against violence against women and domestic violence". It took Finland five years to enact a Supreme Court level precedent for what the convention calls for, namely that spousal or similar violence perpetrated in a close relationship are grounds for harsher sentencing.

More fraud added to murder charges

In other crime news, tabloid Ilta-Sanomat reported on Tuesday that Helsinki District Court commenced with the trial of Markus Pönkä, a convicted killer who was also allegedly involved with several cases of international fraud.

Pönkä was found guilty of killing and dismembering the body of a man in Tallinn, Estonia in 2005 and sentenced to 12 years in prison by an Estonian District Court in 2007. Pönkä now faces charges of fraud which may be added to the already lengthened sentence he is currently serving.

IS wrote that Pönkä is now suspected of embezzling hundreds of thousands of euros in addition to his already standing charges of fraud.

"Pönkä and his accomplices transported foreign nationals into Finland who then proceeded to register with the police. This way they received Finnish social security numbers, even though they had no intention of remaining in the country for long," district prosecutor Johanna Hakanen said in January.

Pönkä then allegedly used the new identification data to open American Express charge card accounts and took out 22 different payday loans. These activities amounted to some 228,000 euros in card purchases and 554,000 euros in loans, according to authorities.

IS also published new photo evidence from the scene of Pönkä's arrest after he fled police custody in 2017. He was eventually apprehended by law enforcement officers in an apartment in Stockholm, Sweden after a drawn-out standoff.

Tampere improves accessibility in addiction treatment

The sufferers of addiction and substance abuse problems in Tampere will soon have better and earlier access to treatment, and have their disorders treated without drug regimens, daily Aamulehti reported.

The Tampere City Council made the ruling on Monday, adding plans to improve service operations overall, though it did not include a schedule for the full treatment reform.

"We are finding the ways in which to improve the addiction treatment of young people especially," Tampere deputy city manager Johanna Lounaskorpi told AL. "This city council ruling is something to start from when developing these health services."

The city's committee on social welfare and health will discuss the plans for a medication-free rehabilitation scheme next week, possibly to set a timetable for the improvements to accessible care.

Health service chief Taru Kuosmanen and service manager Maritta Närhi both also said they would be consulting closely with experts to assess the pitfalls and deficiencies to be found in the care programme.

Tampere drug addiction treatment and care services became the focus of heavy public criticism last month after Aamulehti published a letter from the mother of an addicted child who recounted the ordeals she and her son faced when they sought help for him.

"This new decision cannot change the trouble already faced by this family, but I hope it will make things easier for young people in need in the future," Lounaskorpi said.

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