Problems began to pile up almost immediately after Jari Aarnio was appointed as the head of drug enforcement at the Helsinki Police Department in September 1999 as his squad struggled to get along with other units investigating drug offences.
The problems are laid out in previously unreleased reports drawn up by the Police Command of Finland.
The problems exacerbated to a point that the Police Command launched an inquiry into them only two years after the promotion of Aarnio, appointing Keijo Suuripää, a senior inspector at the Ministry of the Interior, to lead the inquiry.
Suuripää in a report presented in 2001 noted that not a single member of the squad led by Aarnio took part in meetings organised by the National Bureau of Investigation (KRP) to decide on the distribution of duties and on which criminal organisations to target.
Members of the drug squad of Helsinki told Suuripää that co-operation was not one of their strongest suits.
While co-operation between KRP and other police units ran smoothly, officers at the Helsinki Police Department withheld information from the Finnish Customs. “The main problem in drug investigations in the capital region appears to be the approach of the Helsinki Police Department to co-operation with other units. The co-operation appears not to work at all,” notes Suuripää.
The report indicates that Aarnio actively sought to sabotage others and devise obstacles for co-operation. His subordinates, for example, had to contact KRP and other drug enforcement officers behind his back.
Aarnio also turned down a request for assistance from KRP regarding a major drug operation, Operation Bravo. He bragged that he had a long-term informant with insight into the case but refused to hand over the informant's contact details to KRP.
“Costs would have decreased considerably, if the details of the informant had been received. Aarnio has later publicly alleged that the Bravo [operation] was expensive,” the memo reads.
It became evident that the squad led by Aarnio was reluctant to co-operate with KRP after Suuripää sat down with Aarnio and the deputy police chief of Helsinki Erkki Hämäläinen in August 2001. “KRP has according to Aarnio exaggerated the number of professional criminal organisations. Aarnio argued that KRP has mistakenly identified people as members of criminal organisations,” he reports.
The report also indicates that the Helsinki Police Department had established its own undercover squad that is “training actively”. The squad had recently spent “two days at the Police College to train with members of the special operations unit Karhu”.
Suuripää in his report concluded that the drug enforcement squad of Helsinki is “an extremely efficient and functional unit” that is unable to co-operate with KRP.
More problems were identified in a report presented in October 2001, this time relating to FinEsto, a joint project of Finland and Estonia to combat drug trafficking. The project team included a subordinate of Aarnio, although the project itself was co-ordinated by KRP in Finland.
The head of the project, detective superintendent Tero Haapala from KRP, told Suuripää that Aarnio had prohibited his subordinates from disclosing information to KRP that the drug enforcement squad of Helsinki had obtained through their own contacts in Estonia.
Aarnio justified his decision to withhold the information by his lack of trust in KRP.
The report suggests that the failure to exchange information jeopardised the well-being of police officers as both units were tracking the same object unbeknownst to one another. “There was a genuine risk that officers tracking [the object] could have harmed one another, according to Haapala,” Suuripää writes.
A psychologist was later assigned to resolve the disputes arising from the operations of FinEsto, Aarnio told during his first court appearance. Aarnio also dismissed the criticism levelled at his squad, viewing that the report of Suuripää was “rather calculated”.
After the reports, it was time for action. National Police Commissioner Reijo Naulapää summoned Rauno Ranta, the director-general at KRP, and Paavo Koskela, the head of the Helsinki Police Department, for a meeting in November 2001, proposing that the drug enforcement units resolve their differences.
Naulapää considered the matter settled.
Six years later, however, the issue was yet again on the agenda of the Police Command. The underlying problem was the same: the inability of the drug squad of Helsinki to co-operate with other units.
The Police Command assigned a review group to look into the problems in May 2007. After discussing the matter with five police departments and four KRP units, the review group concluded that several police units had found co-operation with the Helsinki Police Department difficult.
The problems were no longer limited to co-operation and the exchange of information, but it was also suspected that the activities of the drug enforcement squad were to some extent illegal. Other units reported, for example, that drug enforcement officers from Helsinki shared no information in joint meetings.
“It was repeatedly suspected that the approach was adopted because other police units may have been looking into an informant of the Helsinki Police Department. It was necessary to know how much the investigators knew in order to protect [the informant],” a report notes.
A pre-trial investigation was launched into the suspicions in late 2007, but most of the accusations faded during the consideration of charges or district court proceedings. Ultimately, two subordinates of Aarnio were convicted of negligent violation of official duty but were handed no penalties for their infringements.
The court ruled that the men had neglected their duty to look into a drug offence committed in Espoo in 2001. The case had been transferred from KRP to the Helsinki Police Department after the latter had announced its willingness to take control of all cases related to the suspect in question.
Investigation into the case was suspended, however, with the drug enforcement squad claiming that it was unable to produce evidence despite its “utmost efforts”.
The Police Department of Espoo was consequently ordered to wrap up the investigation. It was able to produce the evidence, and the suspect was sentenced to three years' imprisonment.
The trial of the drug enforcement officers shed little light on why the Helsinki Police Department had failed to clear a case the Espoo Police Department managed to clear seven years after the fact. The suspect in the case was widely believed to be an informant of the drug squad of Helsinki.
Such allegations were firmly denied by members of the squad.
Discrepancies and lack of supervision in the use of informants remained an issue, however. A report filed by KRP in 2006, for example, noted that “the supervision of informant use had been neglected also at a national level”.
Also the Police Command acknowledged the need to look into regulations governing the use of informants as the trials edged close to their conclusion. One report indicates that the objective was to review the alleged attempts of police units to protect their informants by taking control of all investigations related to a particular person.
Suuripää reminds that the informant practices of the Helsinki Police Department were so efficient in the early 2000s that they were adopted also by other police departments. The drug enforcement squad of Helsinki, however, scrapped the practices.
Earlier this year, Aarnio stated before the District Court of Helsinki that the entry of informants into a database was discontinued due to the legal proceedings revolving around the drug enforcement squad in 2007.
National Police Commissioner Mikko Paatero estimated after the trials that the Finnish Police is unlikely to end up in the centre of such controversy ever again.
Paatero in September 2010 summoned high-powered police officers to mull over what to take away from the process. Participants of the meeting included Ranta, Jukka Riikonen, the head of the Helsinki Police Department, and the man at the centre of the controversy, Aarnio.
Paatero underlined according to the minutes of the meeting that his objective was to prevent similar problems from arising in the future. He was hopeful, estimating that history should not repeat itself after improvements introduced to the organisation and supervisory practices.
The largest negligence trial in the history of Finland, however, began no more than three years later. It is suspected that organised crime has infiltrated the core of the Finnish Police, with Aarnio being the infiltrator.
Investigators have looked into allegations that Aarnio has simultaneously pulled the strings of the drug squad of Helsinki and a drug trafficking ring.
The identity of the main suspect came as a surprise to no one – but the gravity of the allegations did.
Aarnio is currently on trial for a string of aggravated drug offences due to his suspected role in smuggling roughly one thousand kilos of hashish to Finland.
The trial will also delve into his ties to known offenders. The Police Command has been aware of his unusually close relationship with Keijo Vilhunen, a leader of the outlaw biker gang United Brotherhood. Although the relationship has raised eyebrows within the Police Command, no formal explanation has been demanded from Aarnio.
The meetings between Aarnio and Vilhunen appear particularly odd because Aarnio himself has declared that he is no longer involved in the operations carried out by the drug squad. “The head of the drug squad doesn't participate in operational activities,” Aarnio announced in his defence against earlier accusations.
A separate pre-trial investigation has been opened into the informant practices of the drug squad following a request for inquiry by Päivi Räsänen (Christian Democrats), the Minister of the Interior.
The Helsinki Police Department did not have a single registered informant when the latest investigation into the activities of Aarnio was opened in 2013 despite regulations stipulating that all regular informants must be entered into a register.
Susanna Reinboth – HS
Aleksi Teivainen – HT
© HELSINGIN SANOMAT
Photo: Jenni-Justiina Niemi / HS