Probe opened over 3G fiasco

  • 2002-09-05

Finnish Prime Minister Paavo Lipponen was set this week to answer questions from the country's legislature on his Cabinet's role in the state-controlled phone operator Sonera's failed multi-billion-dollar German telecom venture.

Later this year, when the results of several probes have been released, the Cabinet is also expected to face a vote of confidence on the matter.

At the height of the tech boom in 2000, Sonera, of which the Finnish state owns 52.8 percent, paid over 4 billion euros for a stake in a German license to operate a next-generation mobile telephone network.

Next-generation mobile phone services, or 3G, provide fast Internet surfing, mobile e-mail and live sound and video broadcasting to compatible handsets.

But in July, Sonera wrote off the German license as a 4.3 billion euro loss, setting of a wave of finger-pointing among Finnish politicians and media.

The opposition Center Party insisted that the role of the four-party coalition government should be probed by Parliament, and that it step down if it were found to have any responsibility in connection with the loss.

Lipponen has repeatedly stated that he is not to blame, admitting only that he had inadequately supervised Sonera.

But only reluctantly did he agree to face questions on the matter in the legislature, despite the fact that his government enjoys a comfortable majority.

Several members of Sonera's board, including the state's representative Kalevi Alestalo, a civil servant in the Communications Ministry, have said however that the government had sanctioned the German venture.

"The decision to bid on third-generation mobile phone licenses was part of a strategy the Parliament and government had approved," Alestalo said recently.

"It was therefore a strategy that was approved at the highest possible level," Alestalo said.

With parliamentary elections scheduled for March next year, it is likely the opposition, headed by the Center Party, would like to schedule a confidence vote on the government as close to the elections as possible, commentators have pointed out.

In addition to the vote of confidence, the government's role in the fiasco has also been subject to an investigation by the chancellor of justice, the attorney general for the public sector.

It is expected that Parliament will only hold its vote of confidence after the chancellor of justice has released the results of his probe, but a date has yet to be set for that.