Here is the story about the involvement of the Finnish diplomat in Russia:Something had to be done, says diplomat who brought abducted boy back to Finland
Simo Pietiläinen tells Helsingin Sanomat of dramatic escape; Russia sends diplomatic note over incident
“No, there was no way they could have got back into Finland by legal means. I do not regret my actions.”
Simo Pietiläinen, who brought five-year-old Anton Salonen and his father Paavo Salonen back from Russia in secret in the back of his car, stands behind what he did.
The man sitting in a Helsinki hotel meeting room is a Finnish civil servant. Officially he is still an expert adviser on legal matters attached to the Finnish Consulate-General in St. Petersburg. Custody disputes are part of his brief.
Even if he is still officially on staff, there is apparently no going back to St. Petersburg for Pietiläinen.
This has been made clear by both the Finnish and Russian authorities.
Things began to roll forwards just over two weeks ago.
A complicated custody dispute had been festering for some time.
The [Russian] mother in the case had acquired Russian citizenship for her son Anton using false documents.
Two courts in Russia had quashed the decision and ordered that the citizenship papers be rescinded.
Then Pietiläinen heard some shocking news from Moscow.
An immigration official in Nizhny Novgorod had initially declared the boy’s citizenship application invalid, but had then abruptly reversed the decision after a verbal request from the mother.
“At that point I realised that the father and son were never going to get out of Russia and back to Finland by any legal means. Junior officials are not adhering to the decision handed down by the Russian courts.”
The Finnish father had come to Russia earlier in the spring to collect his child, a Finnish citizen.
He traced the boy and in April he unilaterally carried out the terms of an earlier Tampere District Court ruling awarding custody to the father.
In 2008 the mother had taken the child to Russia without the father’s consent and using forged documents.
In spite of the Finnish court ruling and subsequent Russian court decisions, the father had been unable to get the child back to Finland.
Having taken the child, Paavo Salonen found himself in an awkward bind, as the boy’s mother had filed an official complaint with the Russian police. Even though the prosecutor in Nizhny Novgorod ruled that the father had done nothing in violation of Russian criminal law, he was still not permitted to leave the country.
By the first week of May, Paavo and Anton Salonen had already been on the Consulate-General’s premises for three weeks, day in day out.
The father’s tourist visa was running out, and the Russian officials would not grant him an extension. And now things were further compounded by the immigration official’s about-turn on the boy’s Russian citizenship, in direct opposition to a Russian court ruling.
The situation was intolerable. Paavo Salonen could not leave the country and yet he could not remain there legally without a valid visa.
On Thursday May 7th, Paavo Salonen and Simo Pietiläinen discussed a way out of the impasse.
The idea of smuggling the child out of Russia began to take shape.
"Would I be guilty of a more serious offence by doing what I did, or in the circumstances, by doing nothing, and ensuring that two Finnish citizens are unable to get home?” says Pietiläinen of the thoughts that went through his head at the time.
The getaway trip began on the Friday evening. Paavo and Anton Salonen sat in the back seat of Pietiläinen’s dark-blue Audi station wagon.
The car was afforded some protection by carrying red Russian diplomatic licence-plates.
“I bought some chocolate and some soft drinks for the child, and off we went.”
Around ten kilometres before the border, the passengers clambered into the rear of the station wagon, conceunderneath the pull-out blind. “The boy was so incredibly plucky and cheerful the whole time it really was no trouble.”
At the crossing between Russia and Finland the pressure built up.
“We weren’t scared exactly, but definitely tense. I think that describes it.”
The Russian border officials were somewhat preoccupied, in that they were preparing for the celebrations of the following day’s anniversary of Victory Day (May 9th, 1945).
Shortly after passing through the Vaalimaa checkpoints, Anton and Paavo crawled out from their hiding place.
From Hamina they travelled onward in another car.
The journey from St. Petersburg took around two and a half hours altogether.
Pietiläinen returned immediately to Russia, heading back to St. Petersburg the same Friday evening.
A call came in from the Ministry for Foreign Affairs on the following Sunday, May 10th.
“I was in St. Petersburg, washing the car. I was instructed to report in Helsinki that evening.”
“It was an OK meeting, but there were so many people present that I’d rather not say any more about it”, observes Simo Pietiläinen.
Even though the incident stemmed from Pietiläinen’s own choice of course of action, in his view it contains the seed of a profound question about the relations between the two countries.
“It cannot be that an individual civil servant or diplomat handles these matters on the basis of his or her personal conscience. There have to be some reliable ground-rules. My way of doing things cannot be the normal way of carrying on. I can see that perfectly well.”
Pietiläinen’s fixed-term contract will be up for consideration roughly a year from now.
"The Foreign Ministry will get my things brouught out of there [Russia]. I have not been dismissed. That’s about it.”, says Pietiläinen in describing his present position.