The leader of Finland's Center Party (Keskusta) and former Finance Minister Katri Kulmuni said on Friday evening that she has returned the 50,000 euros paid since August 2019 to a communications consulting company that trained her on how to succeed in personal interviews, on TV debates and other public appearances. This scandal of alleged misuse of public funds led her to resign on 5 June.
The reason for the resignation was that the bills issued by the company Tekir Oy were not paid by her party, but with taxpayers' money from the Ministry of Economic Affairs and the Ministry of Finance, which she headed over this period. In addition, it has emerged that the firm which received the payments was in the past a donor of Keskusta.
The company's manager Harri Saukkomaa was one of her coaches and charged 700 euros an hour (plus VAT) for his services.
A loan from the bank
Kulmuni, who also acted as deputy prime minister, wrote on her Facebook page that, in order to repay the money, she had to apply for a loan.
"I have applied for a loan from my bank," and "I don't have any savings," she stressed. Kulmuni admits that, as a member of the Parliament, she has been receiving a good pay. "But since I have usually funded my own election campaigns, there was not enough money left to save," she added.
In her public statement, Kulmuni says that until the scandal was uncovered by the magazine Suomen Kuvalehti she had "the impression that my communication training was the usual training for a minister in terms of content and costs."
"The training was aimed to improve my overall capacity in my new position as a minister. However, separating the roles of minister and party leader is often difficult."
Keskusta offered to pay
Kulmuni announced 4 June, the day before her resignation, that she intended to return the money. According to her statement, "many" of her "supporters" have offered her to organize fundraisers and her party also offered to pay the bills. "I had to refuse, I had promised to pay this myself and I will keep my word."
"The past month has not been easy," she added.
At the beginning of her statement, the former minister says that she has returned the money "without legal obligation."
In fact, since this scandal arose, Kulmuni has made a great effort to emphasize that there has been no fraud, while newspapers and citizens questioned whether the amounts paid may clash with legislation. Finland is a country where taxpayers' money is considered sacred and the penalties for embezzlement very high..
She insisted in her Twitter account that there are no legal issues and that the law related to public procurement was not violated. However, on 5 June, a few hours before her resignation, the police confirmed to the newspaper Demokraatti that they have launched an investigation into the case.
Inspector Teemu Jokinen, from the Helsinki Police Department, said the police are investigating the procurement regulations and whether there is reason to suspect that they have been violated.
The Chancellor of Justice (the government official who supervises authorities' compliance with the law) also received complaints about Kulmuni's conduct in relation to these facts.