AUGUST 20 2013 13:06h

Finland to commence trial in Patria bribery case




A trial against six former executives of the Finnish Patria company is scheduled to commence on Tuesday for a contentious sale of armoured vehicles to the Slovenian army, after which they will be tried for a similar deal with Croatia.

The same indictees are involved in both cases, the chief prosecutor in the case, Jukka Rappe, recently told Slovenia's STA news agency. Therefore, he expects that the ruling will be combined for both cases.

The six indictees -- Jormo Wiitakorpi, Reijo Niitynen, Heikki Hulkkonen, Jarmo Puputti, Tuomasa Korpi and Kai Nurmo -- are accused of offering a bribe to Slovenian public officials so that Patria would be awarded the job of supplying the Slovenian army with armoured vehicles. They have also been accused of industrial espionage.

The trial is scheduled to be held in Haemeenlinna, where Patria Vehicles has its headquarters, and is expected to be over by the end of October.

This will mostly likely be followed by another trial for a similar deal with Croatia.

Rappe added that the trial in the Croatian case could be briefer and that this trial too could be over by November or early December.

If the accused are found guilty, they could be sentenced to around two years' imprisonment as envisaged by Finnish law for bribery, Rappe said.

In 2006, Patria concluded an EUR 278 million deal with Slovenia to provide that country with 135 armoured vehicles. In June this year, a court in Ljubljana sentenced opposition leader and former prime minister Janez Jansa to two years' imprisonment for unlawful mediation in the purchase of Finnish company Patria's armoured vehicles for the Slovenian Army. Slovenian Army Brigadier Tone Krkovic and Rotis company owner Ivan Crnkovic were sentenced to 22 months' imprisonment each. All three, who pleaded not guilty, were also fined EUR 37,000 each.

In 2007, the Croatian defence ministry and Patria concluded an EUR 112 million contract on the delivery of 84 armoured vehicles.

Earlier this year, Finland's state prosecutor announced indictments against the former managing director and two former employees of the Patria Vehicles Oy company, accusing them of using bribery for the sale of Patria AMV armoured vehicles to Croatia in 2007.

State prosecutor Rappe and county prosecutor Timo Kokkomaki also seek punishment for Patria Vehicles Oy, a Patria Group subsidiary renamed Patria Land Services Oy.

The three Finnish citizens are charged with using an intermediary to promise or give a bribe to a former Croatian president and a former director of Croatia's Djuro Djakovic company as a reward for favoring the purchase of Patria vehicles for the Croatian military, Rappe's office said in a statement without identifying anyone. The statement was released in late June.

The events occurred during the term of former Croatian President Stjepan Mesic, who dismissed the suspicions in April 2012, saying he did not participate or in any way influenced the decision to buy the armoured vehicles.

Upon the release of the statement from the Finnish office of the state prosecutor, Mesic again refuted allegations on 28 June.

The Djuro Djakovic director at the time in question, Bartol Jerkovic, also dismissed the suspicion of corruption.

Finland's state prosecutor contends that the Finns promised and paid part of a bribe in the amount of five per cent of the armoured vehicles' purchase price.

Patria offered the vehicles to Croatia in 2005 for more than EUR 350 million. A sales contract was signed in 2007 for 84 vehicles for EUR 112 million.

After that, according to Finland's state prosecutor, Patria Vehicles Oy paid EUR 1.5 million as part of a bribe via an intermediary in Austria.

Other money transfers in Austria have raised suspicion of money laundering and corruption. An investigation of Patria began in Finland in 2009 and a year later Finland, Austria and Croatia set up a joint task force. The joint probe has resulted in indictments in Finland, Austria and Slovenia.

Hans-Wolfgang Riedl, a weapons lobbyist, was sentenced to three years' imprisonment in Vienna in April for corruption in the sale of Patria armoured vehicles to Slovenia. A court found that he transferred hundreds of thousands of euros to Slovenia in 2006 so that Patria could land the sales deal.