Bjarne Håkon Hanssen, one of Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg’s most trusted cabinet ministers until a few weeks ago, spent his 47th birthday on Sunday trying to explain why he doesn’t think he’s breaking state regulations over his plans to become an influence peddler. He also had to admit to an extra-marital affair with one of his former staffers, and clearly could have used some better PR (public relations) himself.
Hanssen finally returned from a trip to Africa and faced the media over the weekend. He’d gone traveling after leaving Stoltenberg’s government last month.
News broke while Hanssen was away that he’d become a partner in a newly formed “strategic advisory firm” called First House, and he posed on the firm’s web site in front of the logo “Strategy and execution through influence.” A press release distributed October 24 via eNewsWire of the UK clearly presents Hanssen as a partner.This, along with news that he’d started living in an apartment in First House’s office building, set off charges that Hanssen was violating state regulations that require outgoing government officials to undergo a “quarantine” period before accepting new jobs that could present conflicts of interest.
Hanssen, now back in Norway, firmly denies he actually has started working for First House. He blames the press releases and formal announcements of his involvement on an “over-eager” First House manager, Bjørn Richard Johansen.
His new colleagues at the firm also deny Hanssen and other formerly top-ranking government officials are active in the firm yet, and Johansen has apologized for making premature announcements.
Hanssen, who headed both the powerful Health and Labour ministries in Stoltenberg’s government, still must inform a state commission of his job plans and obtain their approval. He faces a large fine if they determine he violated state rules. On Monday Hansson said he would ask that he be placed in quarantine for six month and thinks he should refrain from handling major clients for a full year.
Hanssen also faces charges from a wide variety of political analysts, though, that regardless of the commission’s findings, it’s inappropriate of him to so quickly move from a ministerial position to one where he will command high fees for advice on how to deal with ministries.
Romantic entanglement as well
Meanwhile, Hanssen also confirmed on Sunday that he has become romantically involved with a former subordinate in the health ministry. Hanssen remains listed as “married with four children” on the government’s web site, but now has left his wife and entered into a relationship with the former health ministry director, who resigned in July and left her post in September.
Hanssen denies the two were involved while he was still her boss, which would have presented another violation of state regulations.
“We entered into our relationship after she quit in September,” he told Norwegian media outlets. “We became friends as we worked more and more together, but there was no relationship before she quit.”
It remains unclear when Hanssen will be ready, or cleared, to work for First House after the firm’s troubled launch.