Foreign Minister off the hook after tabloid accusations

Ilta-Sanomat newspaper ran a story alleging that Pekka Haavisto cooked up a secret plan to bring back Finnish children from Syria, and pressured a civil servant.

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Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto in his office, 27th August 2019 / Credit: News Now Finland

Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto (Green) has given a credible account of his actions over Finnish women and children held in Syrian refugee camps, after a tabloid newspaper accused him of ‘going rogue’ with a plan to bring back just the children, and pressure a civil servant to put their name to the scheme.

On Monday Ilta-Sanomat broke the story, which was picked up by many other Finnish media outlets.

The article claimed that Haavisto wanted the foreign ministry’s consular chief Pasi Tuominen to carry out ‘Operation Korpi’, a plan to repatriate children in the al-Hol camp back to Finland, without their mothers – which Haavisto allegedly kept secret from President Niinistö, the Chancellor of Justice and the Foreign Affairs Committee in parliament.

According to the newspaper, Tuominen refused to carry Haavisto’s orders which he felt violated laws and international treaties. He has now been replaced as head of consular affairs.

While Pekka Haavisto’s office remained silent on Monday, as the minister was traveling, on Tuesday they released a statement to News Now Finland saying:

“There has been not any kind of pressure over ministry’s consular chief. Minister has named a new officer to specifically handle al-Hol related issues. President and the government have also been informed.”

File picture showing exterior of parliament building / Credit: News Now Finland

Parliament committee and President Niinistö back Haavisto

Pekka Haavisto gave a press conference late Monday night where he set out his side of the story, and denied there was any ‘secret plan’ to bring al-Hol children back to Finland.

“It’s a mystery plan for me too, I haven’t been preparing one” he said.

On Tuesday Haavisto met with parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee to give his account of what happened. The Chancellor of Justice also spoke to the committee members about the situation at the camp.

The committee voted 10-3 to accept Haavisto’s explanation.

Pressident Niinistö also told Helsingin Sanomat newspaper on Tuesday that he was aware that a new official had been appointed at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to prepare the return of Finns from al-Hol on a case-by-case basis.