The Finnish tax authority (Vero) has issued its opinion on the core of the scandal of the payments of meals of Sanna Marin (SDP) and her family with public money, known as 'aamiaisgate' (or 'breakfastgate', in English).
Vero's response sends two messages to the Prime Minister's Office. On the one hand, the tax authority casts doubts on the legality of the Prime Minister's meal benefits. On the other hand, it clearly says that Sanna Marin has to declare and pay taxes on those benefits.
Between January 2020 and May 2021, a total of 14,363.20 euros were paid with public money for breakfasts and other meals for the head of the Finnish coalition government and her family at the official residence of Kesäranta.
The amount is equivalent to an average of 845 euros per month in meal benefits since January 2020, but these amounts were never declared or taxed. The amounts would have to be added to the salary of more than 17,000 euros per month that the prime minister receives.
On 31 May, the Prime Minister’s Office asked the Tax Administration to comment on the interpretation of the Prime Minister’s Office, according to which the catering services provided at the Prime Minister’s official residence are not taxable and are a part of the Primer Minister's housing benefit.
The tax authority's conclusion known on Friday is that the Prime Minister’s meal benefit is taxable. Therefore, Prime Minister Sanna Marin will have to correct her pre-filled tax return for 2020 according to the tax authority's opinion.
But that is not all. The Tax Administration also emphasizes in its response that there is no indication or justification in the law, in its memorandums or in the jurisprudence that allows the catering services enjoyed by the Prime Minister and her family to fit within the tax-exempt housing benefit.
This interpretation casts many doubts about the legality of the procedures applied by the Prime Minister's Office, which are now being investigated by the police.
The Prime Minister's Office has repeatedly invoked the Act on Ministers' Salaries and Allowances, which in its section 6 did not contemplate food payments as part of the Premier's housing benefits, at least in its literal wording.
Thus, the message the tax investigation sends is that the meal benefit that Marin has been benefiting from for a year and 5 months could be illegal.
The Prime Minister's Office has defended its procedure by saying that other leaders have made use of this benefit before.
Based on the opinion of the Tax Administration, the Prime Minister’s Office will draw up new guidelines on the services provided at the residence and make changes to its practices.
The Prime Minister’s Office last specified the services to be provided at the Prime Minister’s official residence in practical guidelines issued in June 2019.