Minister for Development Co-operation and Foreign Trade Ville Skinnari (SDP) attended a plenary session in the Parliament House in Helsinki on 16 May 2022. (Emmi Korhonen – Lehtikuva)

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FINLAND could recourse to legal action in a large-scale scandal connected to the UN Office for Project Services (UNOPS), tells Minister for Development Co-operation and Foreign Trade Ville Skinnari (SDP).

YLE on Sunday published an in-depth article on how the country has found itself embroiled in the scandal surrounding possible misconduct at an impact investment initiative set up under UNOPS.

Finland, the public broadcasting company wrote, succeeded in attracting the head office of the initiative, S3i, to Helsinki. The initiative was launched to build affordable housing in developing countries, but not a single house has yet been built due to suspected misconduct by its chief executive.

While the UN is seeking to recover the funds it invested in projects announced by the office, Finland was not made aware of an internal investigation launched into the misconduct by the intergovernmental organisation for almost two years.

“Finland and other funders were concealed information that would’ve influenced our funding decisions earlier,” Skinnari said to YLE on Tuesday. “This is a heavy blow to trust. Finland has built and is building large-scale projects with the UN. Trust must be restored and, in that sense, we’re taking the matter very seriously.”

He added that numerous people have neglected their duty to supervise the initiative in a way that it exceptional in the history of the UN.

“Those who have acted wrongly must be held accountable. We’re weighing up all measures and options,” he stated. “The UNOPS’s actions will be investigated very carefully by an outside auditor and the necessary legal actions will be determined at the UN Office of Legal Affairs.”

“Finland initiating its own legal action isn’t out of the question.”

Finland has repeatedly requested access to the results of the internal investigation, but its request has yet been granted, according to YLE. The UNOPS has admitted, however, that the country was not provided all the information that could have affected its decision to support the initiative.

“I’ve stressed to officials that we must have all the necessary information and we must take all the necessary measures, judicial and legal actions if and when they’re appropriate,” said Skinnari.

Neither the investigation report, nor its conclusions have been published. A decision on any further action will be made by the UN Secretary General.

The Finnish Ministry for Foreign Affairs provided 10 million euros in funding for the office before the suspected misconduct was exposed. It is presently mulling over whether or not it should seek to recover the funds, which are not believed to have been used for the misconduct as they were used exclusively for the day-to-day operations of the office rather than the investment activity that is under investigation.

Skinnari told YLE that it remains too early to say what will be decided about the possible recovery of funds. He also declined to comment on details of the aspects that will influence the decision.

“We’re now forming an overall picture. People who’ve acted wrongly will be held accountable. We’ll get to the details when the time is right.”

Finland saw hardly any risks in hosting the office even though its activities had previously been primarily unofficial and the plans were vague at the setup phase, according to the public broadcasting company. The Finnish government has been criticised for its slow and muted reaction to the revelation, but the criticism was rejected by Skinnari.

“Finland and the Ministry for Foreign Affairs reacted to [the suspected misconduct] immediately after we received notice of it. We acted transparently and openly. We published a press release immediately, as soon as the this emerged this spring,” he said.

According to YLE, though, the country suspended its funding for the initiative well before the press release – as early as in December.

Aleksi Teivainen – HT