The director general of the Finnish Customs Antti Hartikainen has been charged with breach of official duty related to a conflict of interest issue.
Hartikainen recused himself but failed to leave an executive meeting in November 2015 where his wife’s fixed-term employment was indirectly discussed.
“It was an administrative-procedural mistake. I should have been more adamant about just saying stop and leaving the meeting,” Hartikainen admitted.
According to Hartikainen, the issue related to his spouse’s contract was not included on the meeting agenda, but came up unexpectedly. Events at the meeting progressed so fast that backing away from the issue did not occur to him, he said.
In addition, none of the colleagues present in the room, many of whom were lawyers, paid attention to the process, Hartikainen added.
"I wasn’t told to leave and didn’t receive any support from colleagues on this matter," Hartikainen said, referring to the case of prosecutor general Matti Nissinen who was fined for official misconduct in a similar case last month.
Hartikainen said it was now up to his superiors to decide whether he can continue in his job.
"If every official who has been charged with official misconduct or something else immediately resigned, the police would have far fewer directors at the moment too, or at least some of the staff would have changed."
The Helsinki District Court will deal with the case in April, he said.
This is not the first time Hartikainen finds himself in the public eye.
In 2014 the Ministry of Finance investigated whether Hartikainen had played a role in hiring of his wife at the Customs just months after he was named the agency’s director.
While the ministry decided the following year that Hartikainen had not intervened in her appointment, it said he had breached good administrative practices.
In 2015 Minister of the Interior Päivi Räsänen gave Hartikainen a serious reprimand for publicly criticising a member of his staff.
In 2016 Hartikainen was suspected of a breach of official duty but was not charged. That same year the Ministry of Finance gave Hartikainen an oral reprimand for bullying an employee.