Finnish politician sentenced in money for influence case

A controversial former government minister has been handed a 15-month suspended prison sentence in Finland for his part in a bribery case that saw him receive cash from property developers hoping to have their plans approved. National Coalition Party MP Ilkka Kanerva received campaign donations of more than EUR 50,000 from property developers who hoped to win the politician’s support in his position as chairman of the Regional Council of Southwest Finland.

While some of the money went towards Kanerva’s election campaign, much of it was spent on his widely-publicised lavish 60th birthday celebrations.

Property developer Arto Merisalo was sentenced to six years in jail for false accounting, bribery and aggravated dishonesty as a debtor. His co-defendant Tapani Yli-Saunamäki was also given three-and-a-half years behind bars, while Toivo Sukari was handed an eight-month suspended sentence. Kyösti Kakkonen was, however, acquitted of all involvement in the scandal.

Kanerva was forced to step down from his post as foreign minister in 2008 after it was revealed that he had sent hundreds of messages from his work phone to an exotic dancer.

“It feels like having one’s wings clipped,” said Kanerva in a statement after the verdict, adding that he plans to appeal.

Talking to Yle, Social critic and author Taneli Heikka said the harsh sentences could signal an end to ‘old boy networks’ in Finland. “This is going to send a message to all sorts of corruption -structural corruption and political – that their time is over,” he said.