Police have in recent days detained 18 taxi drivers with links to prostitution following the shutdown of a brothel in Tallinn's Merivälja district and the arrest of four suspected ringleaders in June.
Potential charges differ between taxi drivers, with suspicions including association with an organized crime ring, assisting the brothel and pimping, reported uudised.err.ee.
The drivers come from different taxi companies, while others are independent drivers, but investigators say the companies themselves have not been implicated. Authorities initiated the investigation in February.
"According to investigators, the taxi drivers had an agreement with the brothel that, in exchange for additional payment, they were to seek out clients with a sufficient amount of money, who were generally from abroad,” said major crimes investigator Ardo Ranne. "According to suspicions, we are dealing with a long-term, organized activity that is more conspiratorial than usual, where the taxi drivers filled a central role,” he said.
A board member from the taxi drivers' union, Lembit Poolak, said there was nothing new about taking clients to brothels. Drivers are motivated to seek extra payment due to low incomes and many don't believe they are doing anything wrong, he said. Prostitution per se is legal in Estonia, but procuring is not.
"Of taxi drivers, 90-95 percent have in the course of their work visited one or another such establishment on the request of a client. Including myself," Poolak told uudised.err.ee. "Generally there is always some kind of payment involved [...] Many don't even understand that they are doing anything wrong."
Poolak said a wider system of brothels has been dismantled by authorities in recent years, but that smaller operations are still active. Police say that in the golden era for such outfits, there were as many as 40 establishments regularly assisted by taxis.