Businessman in China faulty face mask deal arrested 

The Espoo-based businessman had millions of euros in his bank account frozen by authorities who are investigating the controversial deal.

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File picture of Onni Sarmaste / Credit: FB

A businessman involved in a controversial deal to bring protective masks from China to Finland has been arrested by police.

Onni Sarmaste has been detained by the National Bureau of Investigation and around €2.7 million worth of funds were frozen.

Police had previously said they were opening a preliminary investigation into the multi-million euro deal which saw Sarmaste as one of the middlemen involved in bringing millions of face masks from China to Finland for the National Emergency Supply Agency NESA.

However, when the masks arrived and were tested, several hundred thousand of the higher grade masks for use in hospitals were found to fall below the required standard. Two million other masks were not put into wide use in care homes after complaints of allergic reactions and a funny odour.

“Thanks to the Money Laundering Investigation Centre freezing the bank accounts last week, we were able to quickly seize most of the funds suspected to have been earned through criminal means” says Tomi Taskila from the National Bureau of Investigation.

“Currently, criminal offenses being considered in the preliminary investigation include gross fraud and gross money laundering. The investigation will continue next with interrogations and gathering over evidence” Taskila adds.

Police arrested Sarmaste at his Espoo home on Wednesday, and also impounded two of his vehicles. Sarmaste had previously told the media that he bought some luxury cars with the proceeds of his NESA deal.

What’s the background to this story?

The National Emergency Supply Agency signed two deals to procure medical-grade protective equipment for frontline healthcare workers in Finland.

One deal was signed with Sarmaste, a businessman with a history of bad debts who runs a payday loan company. The other deal was with Tiina Jylhä, a woman who runs a plastic surgery business in Estonia.

NESA paid around €5 million for these deals but former NESA chief Tomi Lounema admitted his organisation hadn’t done the proper background checks on the individuals they were doing business with. Lounema resigned his position over this controversial deal on 10th April.

Adding further intrigue to the story is an accusation to Finnish newspapers by Sarmaste that Tiina Jylhä and her partner had hired Hells Angels to collect money that she claimed he owed her for the deal.

NESA says they deviated from the normal procurement process and made transactions involving people who would normally be excluded from this sort of procurement order.