Finn suspected in Chinese face mask scandal emerge in Pandora Papers

Screen captures from Onni Sarmaste’s social media accounts. Image: Kuvakaappaukset Onni Sarmasteen Facebook- ja Instagram-tileiltä. Kuvankäsittely: Riikka Kurki / Yle

One of the two Finns suspected in a scandal regarding imported face masks from China has been named in the Pandora Papers offshore data leak, YLE reports.

More than 200 Finnish citizens have been named in the Pandora Papers which are 11.9 million leaked documents with 2.9 terabytes of data that the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists published on 3 October 2021. It is the largest financial data leak in history and 20 of the Finnish citizens mentioned have criminal convictions.

The latest name to emerge in Finland is Onni Sarmaste, a heavily indebted payday lender. He got roughly five million euros for landing a deal to supply the Finnish state with face masks from a Chinese manufacturer. It was however revealed that the masks did not live up to hospital standards and were therefore taken out of use immediately. The masks also caused allergic reactions in some cases.

According to YLE’s recent investigation of the Pandora files, Onni Sarmaste has owned shell companies in Cyprus and the British Virgin Islands, and documents obtained by the news site indicate that Onni Sarmaste made efforts to conceal his ownership of these firms. The leaked files show that Onni Sarmaste had roughly 250,000 euros flowing to his Cyprus-based company annually, with the majority of funds coming from Finland and Switzerland.

Onni Sarmaste has confirmed to YLE to have a company in Switzerland but has no recollection of owning two offshore companies. He says that he did not live in Finland for a long time and he has not recorded any income between 2010-2016. Between 2010 and 2016 Sarmaste did not report any income in Finland.

However, despite his debts, Onni Sarmaste’s social media accounts suggest a lavish lifestyle and he marked the 4.9-million-euro windfall from the national stockpile agency Nesa by buying a 500,000-euro Bentley and a Porsche. At the time he owed 46,000 euros in arrears, according to Iltalehti.

In May of 2020, Nesa’s boss, Tomi Lounema, resigned over the Chinese produced face mask procurement scandal.

About Gregers Møller

Editor-in-Chief • ScandAsia Publishing Co., Ltd. • Bangkok, Thailand

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