The trash-masks scandal, which emerged one month ago around the purchase of a cargo of defective equipment for Finnish hospitals amid the coronavirus crisis is entering a new stage.
On Tuesday, the Finnish National Bureau of Investigation (Keskusrikospoliisi) announced that there is an ongoing investigation into the role played by various employees of the National Emergency Supply Agency (Huoltovarmuuskekus, in Finnish), the state body that ordered the purchases of the fake protective material.
Millions of defective masks and respirators were ordered from a tabloid-celebrity who owns a plastic surgery clinic in Estonia, Tiina Jylhä, and an entrepreneur of dubious reputation, Onni Sarmaste.
In this bizarre case, the state paid around 10 million euros for protective equipment, which later turned out to be useless for hospital use amid a coronavirus pandemic. Around half of the money remains frozen in Estonia as part of a money laundering investigation.
Until now, the police investigation had focused on the people who sold the defective material, mainly the entrepreneur Onni Sarmaste, who was arrested on 22 April by the police. Other two people involved in the case were also arrested by the end of April.
But now the investigation also points to the officials of the National Emergency Supply Agency (NESA) who ordered the purchases. Police are also investigating the content of the contracts made and if the materials supplied correspond with those agreements.
A criminal report filed
According to police information, the National Bureau of Investigation "is also examining the role of individual NESA employees" and a criminal report for misuse of a position of trust has been recorded, according to a press release.
"We will investigate if the acquisition was made in violation of the law and the instructions of the NESA and thus caused damage to the agency. There is one suspect at this stage," explained Superintendent Mikko Laaksonen.
The investigation is still in the preliminary phase and the police have not wanted to give names. To date, this scandal has claimed three political victims among top public officials: Tomi Lounema, the CEO of the NESA, was forced to resign on 10 April, after Prime Minister Sanna Marin said that I had lost confidence in him.
Three days later, two other members of the agency's management team, Asko Harjula and Jyrki Hakola, were suspended or "temporarily removed," according to the official report.
On 15 April, the Finnish Government received a report from the Board of Directors of the NESA. After reading it, the Ministry of Affairs and Employment stated that those involved in the procurement operations committed "unacceptable failures" in verifying the reliability of suppliers and certificates.
Suppliers also investigated
During the preliminary investigation, the police are also looking into the suppliers of the material. There is at least one person suspected of aggravated fraud and another of money laundering, according to the National Bureau of Investigation.
Police says funds worth more than three million euros and two cars (at least one of those bought by Sarmaste with the money of the purchase) have been confiscated.
The preliminary investigation will continue with interrogations of the suspects.