Date: 14 January 2019
Finland: Army and Banks Versus Putin’s Friend
Finland has finally decided to move from words to actions regarding the issue of Russian-owned real property located near Finnish strategic points. The issue is extremely crucial from the point of view of national security. The Administrative Court in Helsinki agreed with the Finnish Army on the matter and prohibited Boris Rotenberg, a Russian billionaire, from expanding the construction of property in close proximity to an important military training ground. There is also a chance that all sales contracts made with Russians on the areas near Finland’s strategic points will be subject to revision.
In autumn 2016, the Finnish Security Intelligence Service (Supo) was alarmed that Russians were buying real property in Finland for military purposes. Later, Finnish MPs even considered breaking some of the contracts concluded with Russian citizens. It was about those areas that are extremely close to Finland’s strategically significant objects. After years of turning a blind eye to Russian activity in Finland, the country’s authorities have started to actively resist potentially dangerous business activities of the Russians. Perhaps this is also one of the results of the scandal with the Airiston Helmi company. However, this time, Boris Rotenberg has learnt it the hard way.
The Finnish court prohibited the Russian businessman from constructing new objects on a piece of land near the port town of Hanko. The reason behind such a decision is the fact that the land is extremely close to the Syndalen military training ground. Rotenberg bought the land in 2004. He already owns a lavish villa there. In December 2016, the Department of Ecology in Hanko gave him permission to build a guest mansion with the surface area of 350 square metres. However, the Finnish Army opposed the decision. According to Finnish military experts, the construction of residential buildings in close proximity to the training ground where field artillery exercises are conducted contradicts safety standards. Besides, this is also the place where NATO soldiers often train together with Finns and Swedes during joint military manoeuvers. The Administrative Court in Helsinki rejected the appeals brought by the Finnish Army several times. Until finally, in the beginning of November 2018, it agreed with the arguments presented by the Finnish Defence Forces. Rotenberg’s business partner, Auvo Niiniketo, did not even try to hide his astonishment with the court’s decision and said that in the future it will limit the development of the area around the training ground.
Boris Rotenberg holds dual citizenship: Russian and Finnish. Together with his brother Arkady, he co-owns SMP Bank, but perhaps what is even more significant is the fact that the two are friends with Vladimir Putin. In 2014, the brothers were placed on the U.S. sanction lists. However, unlike Arkady, Boris is not on the EU’s “blacklist”. This does not necessarily mean that Boris managed to avoid trouble. The 61-year-old billionaire has sued several banks for not wanting to execute his financial transactions. Rotenberg claims that they have no right to block his transactions, because he has not been subject to EU sanctions. For this reason, the businessman has filed a lawsuit against not only Svenska Handelsbanken AB for refusing to accept his international transactions, but also against Nordea Bank, OP Corporate Bank Oyj and Danske Bank A/S for failing to execute his payments. Thus, the four banks are facing the following choice: they will either violate the U.S. sanctions or they will stand trial pursuant to the provisions of the Finnish law.
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