by Juha Erik LEHTONEN
The European Court of Human Rights (Fourth Section), sitting on 17 March 2009 as a Chamber composed of:
David Thór Björgvinsson,
Nebojša Vučinić, judges,
and Lawrence Early, Section Registrar.
Having regard to the above application lodged on 4 June 2007,
Having regard to the formal declarations accepting a friendly settlement of the case,
Having deliberated, decides as follows:
The applicant, Mr Juha Erik Lehtonen, is a Finnish national who was born in 1963 and lives in Muurla. The Finnish Government (“the Government”) were represented by their Agent, Mr Arto Kosonen of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs.
The circumstances of the case
The facts of the case, as submitted by the applicant and as they appear from the documents on the file, may be summarised as follows.
On 18 September 1998 the applicant was initially questioned by the police as a suspect in an aggravated receiving offence in connection with several bankruptcy offences allegedly committed by another person, A. The file does not disclose when the pre-trial investigation was completed.
On 14 April 2000 the public prosecutor preferred charges against, inter alios, the applicant for five counts of aggravated receiving. That was the date when the case became pending before the Salo District Court (käräjäoikeus, tingsrätten).
Following a judgment delivered on 30 March 2001 in separate proceedings, A. left the country for Spain. The District Court therefore stayed the present proceedings until 20 August 2003. A. was extradited to Finland by the Spanish authorities on 11 July 2001 to serve a prison sentence imposed on him by the aforementioned judgment. According to an arrangement, he would be granted immunity from further prosecution in Finland for offences he had previously committed. Therefore, the present criminal case against A. was barred on the basis of his immunity. The Ministry of Justice applied to the Spanish authorities for permission to continue his prosecution in Finland in respect of offences other than those for which he had been extradited. On 2 December 2002 such leave was granted.
On 20 August 2003 the District Court rejected A.'s claim for continued immunity, finding that the immunity had been annulled.
Meanwhile, on 29 June 2001 the District Court gave a decision on the alleged partiality of the public prosecutor.
On 16 April 2004 the District Court refused leave to join a civil case to the criminal proceedings.
On 26 November 2004 the District Court ordered that no use in evidence could be made of certain documents in the case file. On 13 May 2005 the Turku Court of Appeal (hovioikeus, hovrätten) dismissed this complaint without considering the merits as no separate appeal could be lodged in that respect. The matter was referred back to the District Court.
On 16 December 2005 the District Court refused leave to join another civil case to the criminal proceedings.
On 1 February 2006 the District Court invited the Bankruptcy Ombudsman's (konkurssiasiamies, konkursombudsmannen) opinion on the extent of A.'s bankruptcy, that is, whether the legal effects of his bankruptcy were limited only to Finland or whether they also included all his assets around the world. On the same date the District Court asked the Bankruptcy Ombudsman also to clarify the legal nature of a company established according to Liechtenstein law. These opinions were received on 27 March 2006.
On 4 April 2006 the District Court rejected requests for third-party interventions, lodged by three limited liability companies.
On 5 April 2006 the District Court decided to hear two witnesses outside the framework of an oral hearing.
On 6 April 2006 the District Court ruled on the publicity of the proceedings.
On 18 April 2006 the District Court rejected A.'s request for an additional oral hearing to be held in order to clarify the actions of one counsel. On the same date the court rejected A.'s motion to have certain evidence declared inadmissible. It further rejected A.'s requests to have a number of foreign documents excluded as evidence.
On 12 May 2006 the District Court decided that a foreign witness could be heard in the case.
On 23 and 30 May 2006 the District Court requested judicial assistance from the Swiss authorities and the authorities of the Isle of Man and Guernsey respectively.
On 12 June 2006 the District Court decided on the competence of one of the witnesses to give evidence.
On 14 June 2006 the District Court ordered that no use as evidence could be made of certain other documents in the case file.
On 21 June 2006 the District Court separated one of the counts against one of the applicant's co-accused for examination in separate proceedings.
On 27 June 2006 the District Court rejected A.'s motion that one of the witnesses could not be questioned about certain facts.
On 30 June 2006 the District Court decided to postpone the oral hearing for a period of 45 days. On the same day it extended the time-limit for the request for judicial assistance from the authorities in the Isle of Man until 2 August 2006.
On 12 December 2006 the District Court delivered a judgment, rejecting all charges against the applicant.
The public prosecutor and the complainant appealed. On 12 June and 25 September 2007 the Court of Appeal held preparatory hearings. On 12 June 2007 the Court of Appeal rejected A.'s request for the District Court's judgment to be quashed and for the matter to be referred back to the lower court. On the same date, the court agreed that certain persons could be heard as witnesses. On 12 June and 31 August 2007 it decided to request judicial assistance from the authorities of Guernsey in order to hear a witness. An affidavit together with a DVD recording were received on 21 January 2008. On 25 September 2007 the court decided to request judicial assistance from the Liechtenstein authorities in order to hear two witnesses. Their written witness statements were received on 15 January 2008. On 25 October 2007 the court agreed that certain evidence could be used.
Once the main hearing began, the case was heard over six days in November and two days in December 2007.
On 21 January 2008 the Court of Appeal rejected A.'s request to rehear one of the witnesses who had given a statement before the Liechtenstein authorities. On 28 January 2008 it annulled the decision of the District Court declaring the case file secret. None of the documents in the file was declared secret but the court defined those documents that were secret ex lege.
On 25 June 2008 the Court of Appeal gave judgment, upholding the lower court's judgment insofar as the applicant was concerned. Leave to appeal to the Supreme Court (korkein oikeus, högsta domstolen) was not requested as far as he was concerned.
On 29 January 2009 the Court received the following declaration from the Government:
“I, Mr Arto Kosonen, Agent of the Government of Finland, declare that the Government of Finland offer to pay ex gratia EUR 9,500 (nine thousand five hundred euros) to Mr Juha Erik Lehtonen with a view to securing a friendly settlement of the above-mentioned case pending before the European Court of Human Rights.
This sum, which is to cover any non-pecuniary, will be free of any taxes that may be applicable. It will be payable within three months from the date of notification of the decision taken by the Court pursuant to Article 37 § 1 of the European Convention on Human Rights. In the event of failure to pay this sum within the said three-month period, the Government undertake to pay simple interest on it, from expiry of that period until settlement, at a rate equal to the marginal lending rate of the European Central Bank during the default period plus three percentage points. The payment will constitute the final resolution of the case.”
On 11 February 2009 the Court received the following declaration signed by the applicant:
“I, Mr Juha Erik Lehtonen, the applicant in the above case, note that the Government of Finland are prepared to pay me ex gratia the sum of EUR 9,500 (nine thousand five hundred euros) with a view to securing a friendly settlement of the above-mentioned case pending before the European Court of Human Rights.
This sum, which is to cover any non-pecuniary damage, will be free of any taxes that may be applicable. It will be payable within three months from the date of notification of the decision taken by the Court pursuant to Article 37 § 1 of the European Convention on Human Rights. From the expiry of the above-mentioned three months until settlement simple interest shall be payable on the above amount at a rate equal to the marginal lending rate of the European Central Bank during the default period plus three percentage points.
I accept the proposal and waive any further claims against Finland in respect of the facts giving rise to this application. I declare that this constitutes a final resolution of the case.”
The Court takes note of the friendly settlement reached between the parties. It is satisfied that the settlement is based on respect for human rights as defined in the Convention and its Protocols and finds no reasons to justify a continued examination of the application (Article 37 § 1 in fine of the Convention). In view of the above, it is appropriate to strike the case out of the list.
For these reasons, the Court unanimously
Decides to strike the application out of its list of cases.
Lawrence Early Nicolas Bratza