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Two detained in suspected face mask fraud

Police are questioning two men about an alleged scheme to cheat the state in a face mask deal.

Kuvassa on Onni Sarmaste.
Onni Sarmaste Image: Onni Sarmaste

Police have detained two men in connection with a dodgy deal to provide the state stockpile agency with personal protective equipment (PPE).

The National Emergency Supply Agency (Nesa) paid businessman Onni Sarmaste 4.9 million euros for a delivery of face masks from China to be used by healthcare workers.

However the VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland determined that the masks did not meet the standards for hospital use. Users have also reported allergic reactions and a disagreeable odour.

The National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) detained Sarmaste on Wednesday and an alleged accomplice on Thursday. Both men were taken into custody in Espoo, just west of Helsinki.

Sarmaste operated an instant-loan company before running heavily into debt himself. He has a long criminal record including assault, making threats, resisting arrest and drunk driving.

Interrogations of both suspects began on Thursday.

Police have also seized 2.7 million euros in funds from Sarmaste, as well as two luxury cars, a Bentley and a Porsche, which were bought immediately after the mask deal.

NBI Superintendent Tomi Taskila says that one of the cars was registered in the other man’s name.

Police suspect Sarmaste of aggravated fraud, and the other man of aggravated money laundering. The NBI believes that the cars were purchased with the proceeds of the aggravated fraud.

Authorities have not released the suspects’ names, but Yle has learned that Sarmaste is one of them.

Police must decide by Saturday whether to ask a district court to formally place the two men under arrest.

Nesa’s former CEO stepped down over the mask deal, and two other senior officials have been suspended pending further investigation.

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