HELSINKI (AP) — Finnish broadcaster YLE won’t provide documents related to the Panama Papers to the country’s tax authority, which has demanded access to them in an apparent move to trace tax dodgers with offshore accounts, the company said Monday.
YLE lawyer Kirsi-Marja Okkonen said they won’t comply with the request from the Finnish Tax Authority, which set an April 29 deadline for receiving the information. She said that in talks after they received the demand two weeks ago tax officials had threatened to call in police to help them obtain the documents.
“This is totally unprecedented,” Okkonen said. “As far as we know we’re the only country where tax officials have demanded access to the material from reporters.”
She said the broadcaster will appeal to the Helsinki Administrative Court over the demand, and has until mid-July to do so.
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Mikko Mattinen, spokesman for the tax office, told The Associated Press it couldn’t confirm the details, because officials aren’t allowed to comment or provide details about any individual investigation or case they are pursuing.
The tax authority move comes at an embarrassing time for the Nordic country, which has often topped media freedom lists and hosts World Press Freedom Day this week with more than 1,000 media professionals expected to attend. It was widely criticized by journalist organizations and freedom of speech advocates.
The Association for Investigative Journalism and the Court Reporters’ Association have demanded that tax officials cease to demand the material, saying it violates journalists’ rights to protect their sources and threatens the freedom of speech. The media watchdog, Council of Mass Media, also slammed the decision, pointing out that Finland is hosting the press freedom celebrations in cooperation with UNESCO.
“We really aren’t celebrating press freedom … with this case,” council chairwoman Elina Grundstrom said.