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Police detains Estonian criminals behind forced labor in Finland

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Member of a PPA rapid response unit.
Member of a PPA rapid response unit. Source: Ken Mürk/ERR

The Estonian Central Criminal Police and Finnish colleagues arrested eight people suspected of belonging to a criminal group in both countries in late April. According to the police, the men were engaged in trafficking Estonian, Latvian and Ukrainian citizens.

A total of nine persons are suspected of belonging to a criminal group and forcing construction workers who sought work in Finland to do forced labor. The members are also suspected of misleading people and placing them in a situation of debt bondage, Helsingin Sanomat reports.

The preliminary suspicions concern offenses against property and economic crimes, such as fraud. All suspects have prior punishments for violent offenses, representatives of the Police and Border Guard Board (PPA) and the Prosecutor's Office said. According to the suspicions, the organization was run by 51-year-old Valeri, known in criminal circles as the Joker.

The arrested suspects could have made €2.3 million in illegal proceeds for taking advantage of construction workers. Construction workers from Estonia, Latvia and Ukraine were basically doing forced labor in Finland, according to the suspicions.

Public prosecutor Raigo Aas said in a press release that authorities have worked closely with their Finnish colleagues on the investigation. "The same members of a criminal group are suspected of committing various crimes in Finland. Some of them have been charged with human trafficking and fraud offenses, while one is also facing charges of tax fraud and smuggling," Aas said.

Criminal organization among one of very few Estonian-speaking groups

Ago Leis, head of the Central Criminal Police's organized crime unit, said that the activities of organized crime groups have been disrupted in Estonia, which has caused the criminals to expand to other countries. "Suspicions suggest members of the group committed offenses against property and economic crimes to generate illegal gains and ensure the survival of the organization. Expansion to Finland might have been aimed at bigger profits and escaping the attention of the Estonian authorities. The group in question is one of the few Estonian-speaking criminal organizations in the region," Leis said.

Aas explained that a crime committed by several people does not necessarily amount to a criminal organization. "A criminal organization has a structure, hierarchy, and its activities continue even if members leave or change. In some ways, it is an alternative social group created for committing crimes. Because a criminal organization usually does whatever it takes to make money in illegal ways, even white-collar organized crime poses a threat to residents and the economy," Aas said, adding that further details about this group's suspected offenses will follow as the investigation progresses.

"Modern organized crime is no longer visible to the public, while the danger it poses should not be underestimated. We can see the internationalization of crime and it moving outside Estonia, meaning that damage will also be done elsewhere. The Estonian police will continue fighting organized crime, working with foreign partners," Leis said.

Suspects arrested for up to two months in Estonia

Because the suspects are a flight risk and might commit new crimes if not detained, the prosecution moved for the suspects' arrest. The Harju County Court placed seven suspects under arrest for two months, while two are detained in Finland. All suspects have prior punishments for violent and narcotics crimes.

The investigation is carried out by the Central Criminal Police's organized crime unit for the Office of the Prosecutor General.

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Editor: Marcus Turovski

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