Prosecutor drops charges against payday lender over failed mask deal | News

The aggravated fraud charges relate to a €4.9million deal to provide personal protective equipment (PPE) at the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

Former payday lender and businessman Onni Sarmaste. Image: Onni Sarmaste

Prosecutors have decided to drop aggravated fraud charges against the former payday lender and businessman Onni Sarmaste related to the supply of faulty personal protective equipment (PPE) at the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

Similar charges against Sarmaste’s business partner were also dropped.

The National Emergency Supply Agency (Nesa) paid 4.9 million euros to Sarmaste in April 2020 for a delivery of face masks from China to be used by healthcare workers.

The VTT Technical Research Center of Finland later determined that the masks did not meet standards for hospital use, with users reporting allergic reactions as well as a strange smell coming from the equipment. The quantity of masks also turned out to be less than promised.

The National Bureau of Investigation has opened a preliminary investigation into the suspicion that Sarmaste and his accomplice deliberately misled NESA officials on matters decisive in making the purchase decision.

Charges against the three NESA officials – the agency’s former director general Tomi Lounema, former administrative director Asko Harjula and former head of department Jyrki Hakola — were dropped earlier this month.

All three left the agency following the fallout from the failed deal.

However, the prosecutor decided not to prosecute because there was no probable reason to suspect Sarmaste or his business partner of having committed a crime, based on the results of the preliminary investigation.

In a statement issued following the prosecutor’s decision, NESA said it intended to review the decision and assess possible additional measures. The agency further added that it will continue to demand payment of the transaction amount and other incidental fees from Sarmaste, his company and his business partner.

Sarmaste previously operated an instant loan company before going into debt himself. He has a lengthy criminal record including assault, uttering threats, resisting arrest and drunk driving.

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