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16 Jan, 2024 17:27

EU state could ban Russian real estate ownership

The measure is the only way to ensure national security, Finnish Defense Minister Antti Hakkanen has said
EU state could ban Russian real estate ownership

A wholesale ban on real estate deals involving Russians would be desirable, Finland's defense minister Antti Hakkanen told a group of newspapers in an interview published on Tuesday. 

Finland is set to introduce tighter controls on any property transactions involving persons or companies from outside the EU. The Nordic nation's government was previously allowed to block any real estate deals for security reasons.

Now, Hakkanen wants Russians to be barred from buying or renting property in Finland completely. “Connections that are problematic for national security have been observed in [the case of] several Russian businesses,” he told the newspapers, adding that “a blanket ban would be better” since “not everything can always be discovered.”

The minister accused Moscow of seeking to “destabilize” the Western nations by exploiting their “soft spots” and said that he intends to find “legal solutions” facilitating the total ban. Hakkanen also said he expected the changes to come into force in spring.

The new regulations being considered by Helsinki involve stricter permit conditions for any real estate transactions involving actors from outside of the bloc and the European Economic Area (EEA), which also includes Iceland, Liechtenstein, and Norway, the minister said. The rules are set up to cover both property sales and rent, he added.

The authorities also plan to perform background checks on properties that have already been sold, Hakkanen said, adding that the “employment of middlemen in transactions would be restricted more strongly than now.”

Finland brought new legislation into force early last year, that further expanded the state’s right to intervene in any real estate transactions. Non-EU and non-EEA property purchasers have had to apply to the Finnish Defense Ministry for permission either before the deal or within two months of its signing since 2020. The state could then block the purchase or seize the property under the terms of the sales deal if it was located near some “strategically important areas.”

The 2023 amendments introduced a broad range of new reasons for the state to block such deals, including a threat to national security. The list includes the possibility of intelligence gathering, the use of property to prepare a terrorist attack or sabotage, and its acquisition by an entity engaged in activities that could endanger Finland’s security or international position.

The Finnish authorities blocked three property sales to Russians on security grounds in October 2023 and blocked one more such deal involving a “partially Russian-owned company” earlier in January.

Earlier, a special team assembled by the previous Finnish government recommended against a blanket ban on Russian real estate ownership, calling it neither appropriate nor effective. Moscow has not commented on Hakkenen’s plans yet.