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Tiny big scandal

by Inna Rogatchi, Helsinki, special report for the BC

It has been a completely unprecedented case in Finnish history: withdrawn in summer 2003 from their positions, former Prime Minister Anneli Jattenmyaki and former President's counsellor Martti Manninen both have been indicted in March 2004 and appeared in the court. After investigation the latter was indicted for the violation of official and professional secrecy. The former leader of presently ruling party, having been the country's Prime Minister just for two months, was indicted for negligence and rendering assistance in committing the said felony. But the major injured party is no doubt the Finish Foreign Office.

For the first time in the state's history the legal process was partly translated by the national TV. That quite an unprecedented step for Finland the judge decided to accept, taking into consideration "the legal process' particular significance for the society". What then actually has happened?

 

If there is a will, there is a way 

This incredible story has developed in line with the rules of a detective genre: separate meetings, exchange of secret fax numbers, delivery, reception, and public usage of huge amount of international confidential information, quickly deteriorating relations with states' leaders world-wide…All these events happened on the eve of the war in Iraq, the preparation for which happened to coincide with the regular public campaign for the parliament elections in Finland. The latter would remain ranked as a regular event, if not for the sudden determination of big opposition Centre Party's leadership (the same party which for years was headed by U.K.Kekkonen) to win the elections by all means. Experts ascribed the idea of this sudden and strong determination to the new party leader and then provincial lawyer Anneli Jattenmyaki, who obviously strove to

 

Photo: EPA/A.F.I.

Anneli Jattenmyaki and Martti Manninen (at the other table) in the court room, March 3, 2004.

repeat the "record" of another Finnish politician, Mrs. Tarja Halonen, becoming in 2000 the first woman-president in Finland's history. Besides, T. Halonen won presidential elections, defeating the prior leader of the same Centre Party with the minimal margin of just 1.5% votes.

At that moment Finland has already had some women in politics, i.e. woman speaker in the previous parliament, and even two women ministers in defence, prevailing number of women in the parliament, and about a half of women Cabinet members. But a woman in the chair of the prime minister, that has never happened in Finland! The temptation was too big, and it turned out to be quite destructive.

The party leader and her close advisers chose as their victim the mighty figure of the well-known and honoured politician Paavo Lipponen, for the long time being the country's Prime Minister. As a speaker in the parliament, P. Lipponen was once was regarded as the main candidate for the post of the new European Commission's president. Experts analysing the situation considered that "…it was not so easy to pull down Lipponen, an authoritative and enduring political stability person. It was particularly impossible to do on such issues as internal policy issues and successful economic development. Therefore in Finland, always standing off any involvement in international conflicts, the theme of approaching war in Iraq was chosen for delivering a heavy blow. But the blows started to hit, unfortunately, below the belt".

The obvious candidate to the elections' victory and the newly-baked party leader of wealthy agro-bourgeois share of the population to the complete surprise of the media, the public and colleagues among political adversaries in the election campaign, began something different. In her public speeches wearing a face of a person "telling the only truth", she began announcing awful secrets, for a long time concealed from wide public, about "unbelievable adventures" of acting Prime Minister in Washington, about the contents of his negotiations with the US President George W. Bush, disclosing materials of confidential briefings of allied powers about anti-Iraq coalition and so forth. In order to persuade stubborn journalists, Jattenmyaki even demonstrated them documents with the stamp "confidential", which were published in newspapers the next morning. Even her own party members, headed by the uncontrolled aspirant, began to ask questions: where do these documents come from?

In search of a domestic spy

The covered source of information turned out to be outside internal spy-game. But until the breakneck moment of truth discovery few months have passed; the state in the meantime acquired a new government, and uncontrolled denouncer Jattenmyaki became the first woman Prime Minister in the history of Finland. The victory was gained by the prevalent margin of 6 thousand votes, which political observers called "ridiculous micro-victory" even in such sparsely inhabited country as Finland. Presumably, it was true, as the new winner was to create a coalition government with Finnish Social Democrats lead by Lipponen ruthlessly denounced as the secret pro-Bush ideological opponent.

A strange government rules the state today too, although with the new Prime Minister; the first lady-boss stayed in the office only for two months and was forced to resign after publicly denounced by both the parliament's full session vote of censure and by her own party. The party leader's post she lost too, being in this position just for few months. Each of these incidents was unprecedented in the history of Finland.

However, much more astonishing fact was the source of secret state information and its amount transferred into the hands of the opposition party leader within the pace of election campaign. Mass media played main role in this unbelievable incident's development. "When the secret materials were in the hands of the press, while Jattenmyaki continued the public boast that she owned a lot of such materials, we decided in our editorial boards that there were too much dirt in all this that we could turn our attention away. As it turned out later, the same outcome was persuaded by the police", we were told in one of the largest Finnish newspapers Ilta-Sanomat.

The newly made woman Prime Minister was questioned as a witness in the case concerning violation of the law of state secrets. And the aggressive political lady "broke down" immediately. The dazzled Finnish society learned that the information leak was performed by the President's political counsellor with more than 20 years in public service Martti Manninen. From Tarja Halonen's presidential office through secret and special fax number during three months last year he delivered to Jattenmyaki about 1,400 pages of documents, most of which were marked with the stamps "secret" and "confidential", and which were related to foreign policy issues.  

If you hand in a secret, just do not call it one

In the open part of the court's proceedings, the prosecution judge has announced that among those documents happened to be the records of Finish leaders' confidential negotiations with heads of state and governments in USA, France, Germany, Spain, EU and Russia during the period of particular international tension on the eve of the war with Iraq. Ironically enough, a part of the documents have been kept in secret during the process, despite the fact that its secrecy was compromised by both accused persons and partly became available to general public.

Presidential counsellor Manninen, known for his experience and consideration (he outlived in his office several presidents) could not ignore both the deeds and the consequences of his behaviour. Only one question arises: who or what compelled him to go through such risks? Ilta-Sanomat explained: "Of course, Manninen was well aware that both Finnish President and Minister of Foreign Affairs did not approve of Prime Minister Lipponen's external policy course, in fact they very much disliked it". "Quite sure, it must be taken into consideration, that Manninen was an active member of the Centre Party and even a peculiar "connection" between the President's secretariat and this party", admitted one of previous Finish Presidents Mauno Koivisto. Still, as considered by most of the political commentators, it was not enough for committing the biggest state and public crime in history of Finland.

"It happened, in fact, that behind the back of the President, in her secretariat, a conspiracy against the Prime Minister was carried out by the person who at the same time was the leader of her own party. For Halonen, with all her disagreements with Lipponen, it was too much. She immediately fired Manninen and signed Jattenmyaki's dismissal order without delay", explained Pekka Ervasti, one of the main participants of this political scandal and the first one to tell the country the side-scenes of Jattenmyaki's access to power.

 

There used to be countries…

However, according to procedural judge's statement in the court "our criminal code does not contain a paragraph about conspiracy by state or public persons as a kind of criminal offence". Melancholically admitted one of Swedish journalists, reviewing the process: "There used to be countries…" Prosecutor's suggested punishment – small fines for both accused persons – has been regarded by almost every observer as ridiculously low. "It is hard for me to understand what could be more serious than this unprecedented crime, and I completely do not get the meaning of the ridiculous prosecutors' office softness", said P. Ervasti. "Moreover, that criminal code provides, in fact, much stronger punishment, especially for such kind of official crime", repeated his colleagues from MTV3, Finnish commercial television channel.

Observers try to explain such incommensurably soft punishment by the eventual wish of higher government officials in Finland to give the huge political scandal a less possible resonance. "There is nothing to boast about – we may just imagine what feelings by the word "Finland" were now perceived after what has happened in the US State Department and the EU, as well as among executives of Foreign Office departments in such big countries as Germany, France and Russia. No wander that our executives want to leave it behind as quietly as possible and fast", said one of the leaders of Finnish professional club of political journalists.

Obviously, this was also the reason that the injured party, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Finland, waived any claims about incurred losses, although the law envisaged that. "Does it mean that the key ministry, whose huge heap of documents were illegally stolen and made available to the public, causing big losses to the country` s international reputation, does not regard itself suffering 'enough' losses?", journalists asked the country's law professors, receiving in response just some indefinite nods.

 

When one waits for surprises, one finally gets them

On the eve of the process, well-informed people in Finnish state power corridors persistently repeated: "Just wait for surprises, just wait…"

During the court hearing the accused, abandoned former Prime Minister, suddenly started expressively insist that during the meetings with the accused President's ex-counsellor the main theme actually was preparation for the private visit of President Halonen and her husband for dinner at Jattenmyaki's house, which took place in the beginning of January last year during the heat of aggressive election campaign. The eyes of journalists present at the court proceeding started to blow out. At the hearing's break the immediate written announcement of the country's President appeared, categorically denying any relation to the case at stake. "And why do they feel so nervous?" asked my colleagues – journalists shrugging their shoulders, while reading the text of the announcement.

The experienced government staff-member Manninen also prepared his surprise. As if it was not enough that as the witness for the defence at his side was invited and agreed to participate as the so-called victim-side, Minister of Foreign Affairs and veteran-pacifist Erki Tuomnoya. A confidential witness was also announced, whose name was not revealed. The Finnish public was getting tired from guesses, however coming to conclusion, that "on the whole, there are just a few versions".

What kind of surprises is awaiting Finnish society about their political elite's dirty games shall be known during the long court proceedings. According to well-informed experts, other distinguished official persons, now occupying high positions, knew of this planned and proceeding case.

In the meantime the main person behind the scandal, Anneli Jattenmyaki, who was forced to resign from the post of Prime Minister and the leader of the party, has striven to conquer new peaks. Thus with astonishing coolness she has announced her intention in June this year to become a MEPs candidate at the forthcoming elections to the European Parliament. Disgraced by her but still unflappably continuing in power, the Centre Party gladly supported a fresh initiative from this uncontrollably streaming for some distinguished positions the secret documents' discloser. "Do not they realise that these steps represent anti-publicity for Strasbourg?" Estonian colleagues asked Finnish political observers. And they did get an answer: "Who really thinks about this Strasbourg? For those, the present political leaders, the most important thing is to get rid of her here, inside the country. It would be bad if she comes up with some new ideas…"

Inna Rogatchi, Rogatchi Productions & Communications