Prime Minister Sanna Marin has ordered the Prime Minister's Office to suspend all meal purchases for the duration of the scandal investigation.
Marin has been since last week under fire following media reports that unveiled food purchases for her and her family for a total value of 14,363.20 euros at the official residence of Kesäranta. Those purchases (845 euros per month, on average) started in January 2020, soon after she took office, and were not declared or taxed although food benefits at work are generally taxable in Finland.
In a country where taxpayers bear one of the highest tax levels in the world, there are many outraged Finns who see it unfair that the prime minister, who earns a salary of about 17,000 euros a month, does not have to declare her food benefits.
But the controversy does not only affect the prime minister's income declaration. The police have also launched a preliminary investigation into the management of the prime minister's food benefits, to clarify whether anyone on her office team engaged in malpractices.
The scandal, known in Finland as the 'aamiaisgate' ('breakfastgate', in English), has been increasing several degrees in intensity every day for a week. This was partly due to the lack of transparency of the Prime Minister's Office, which from the beginning put obstacles to the journalistic investigation.
The government's poor communication strategy did not help either: it took the government's press services a week to make an official statement on the matter. Before, they were filtering the scant information with a dropper, spreading among Finns the feeling that there was more to hide than tell.
To further complicate the problem, the tweets of an outraged Sanna Marin made the controversy even bigger and brought to the headlines of the newspapers some questions that until then were only malicious rumors on the social networks, such as who paid for her wedding - held at the official residence in August 2020 -, and other matters irrelevant to the case that have to do with their hairstyles or makeup.
A request to Vero
On Monday evening, the government finally issued a statement, which was not released in English until the following day, and which confirmed almost everything that the Finnish newspapers had published on the case.
The only relevant news that the text said was that Prime Minister Sanna Marin had ordered the suspension of food purchases at the official residence of Kesäranta until the tax authority (Vero) clarifies whether or not they are subject to taxation.
"On 31 May 2021, the Prime Minister’s Office sent a request for an opinion to the Finnish Tax Administration on the taxability (sic) of services provided for the Prime Minister’s official residence. The internal guidelines of the Prime Minister’s office will be reviewed on the basis of the opinion of the tax authorities. The Prime Minister has requested that the purchases in question be suspended during the investigation of the matter," the statement reads.
Both breakfast and meals
The government's release also admitted that Prime Minister Marin has been using the catering services related to residing in the official residence since January 2020 and up to May 2021. The total cost of catering for this period is 14,363.20 euros, or an average of 845 euros per month and include both breakfast supplies and the cold meals delivered to the residence.
The meals have included cold starters and main dishes, salads and fresh snacks. The service has been provided by Compass Group, which also produces catering services to the House of the Estates for Government meetings and events.
The services to be provided to the Prime Minister’s official residence were last specified by the Prime Minister’s Office in a practical guideline dating back to June 2019. It clarified, among other things, the services related to residing in Kesäranta, including catering services.
What this guidelines says is that "when the Prime Minister resides in the official residence, counting also short overnight stays, breakfast supplies and cold meals may be ordered there. The related reasonable costs will be covered from State funds. In addition to the Prime Minister, family members living in his or her household may also benefit from this service."
The government statement also insists on the wedding issue: "Prime Minister Marin and her husband covered all the expenses themselves. The invoices were addressed to the Prime Minister, and she has settled them."