Criminal investigations: a criminal organisation smuggling up to 1,700 kilos of drugs into Finland in one year exposed by its messages

Publication date 28.1.2022 9.50
News item

The police have nearly completed criminal investigations into a massive drug smuggling case that is most exceptional in Finnish drug history. The criminal activity began to be exposed during the international FBI-led Operation Greenlight. The police believe that the case has links to a number of other drug investigations in Finland.

Alt: Phones seized by the police in sample bags bearing the name Forensic Laboratory.

Anom phones seized by the police in the Forensic Laboratory's sample bags. The police seized 140 Anom phones during Operation Greenlight. Photo: Police

The National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), the Helsinki Police Department and the Southeastern Finland Police Department have cooperated in the investigation of a drug smuggling case where an organisation led from Estonia and Spain is suspected of having illegally imported around 1,700 kilos of narcotic substances into Finland between the summer of 2020 and the summer of 2021. Around 500 kilos of these drugs have been seized by the police.

The criminal organisation is suspected of smuggling 706 kilos of amphetamine into Finland from the Netherlands and 770 kilos of cannabis from Spain. An amount of 24 kilos of cocaine and 90,000 ecstasy pills, and other drugs, were transported to the country with the amphetamine deliveries from the Netherlands. The total street value of these drugs is about 100 million euros.

The police got on the track of the smuggling ring through messages sent between the criminals. The suspects used the Anom application developed by the FBI. The smuggling operations investigated cover most of the drugs smuggled into Finland that were detected by Operation Greenlight.

– This case is exceptional in many ways. The drug amounts detected are massive by Finnish standards. We made effective use of technology to direct the criminal investigation, which relied on close international cooperation in both Operation Greenlight (FBI) and operational activities, says Head of Investigation, Detective Superintendent Jari Räty of the NBI.

During the criminal investigation, suspects were apprehended in the Netherlands, Spain, Estonia, Germany and Italy. Most of the apprehensions were conducted in early June 2021 when press conferences on the operation were held worldwide (link to the press release of the police).

The suspects comprise a group of eleven who are believed to be responsible for the smuggling of drugs into Finland. Most of them are Estonian citizens. Besides Estonia, the criminal activity was organised from Spain.

The drugs smuggled from the Netherlands and Spain were delivered to Finland in freight.

– It appears from the suspects' messages and the criminal investigative measures taken that the suspects planned and organised the smuggling in an extremely professional manner. The drugs were hidden, for example, among cargoes of soil, woodchip mulch and grilling charcoal, and inside boilers, says Jari Räty.

Several police departments have conducted criminal investigations linked to the drug smuggling case concerned. Some of these investigations have already been considered in court. At this point, the criminal investigations conducted by three police units are about to be referred for prosecution. These investigations are described in more detail in this press release. The Southeastern Finland Police, the NBI and the Helsinki Police have investigated how the drugs were received in Finland and how they were further distributed across the country.

– This has been quite a complex investigation because the amounts smuggled have been so huge; for example, a single delivery may have been distributed further to several regions in the country, says Jari Räty.

Some of the drugs ended up in the hands of the distribution ring through middlemen. It is suspected that a Finnish man living in Spain sold the drugs smuggled by the Estonian organisation to the distribution rings in Finland. Based on the criminal investigation, this suspect organised the drug trafficking from Spain using SkyECC and Anom phones.

– Besides acting as a middleman, the suspect also orchestrated himself three marijuana deliveries to Finland. We believe that the suspect gained up to around 1.6 million euros of proceeds from this criminal activity, says Head of Investigation, Detective Chief Inspector Hans Fagerström of the NBI.

It all started in southeastern Finland

The criminal activity began to be solved as the Southeastern Finland Police detected, on the basis of messages between the criminals, activities relating to the reception and distribution of drugs in its area. From these messages, the police were able to build a picture of the structure of the smuggling and distribution rings and direct criminal investigations in Finland and other countries. 

The criminal investigation by the Southeastern Finland Police has established that a large part of the drugs smuggled by the Estonian organisation were delivered to Kotka, to be distributed by the organisation operating in southeastern Finland to distribution rings in, among others, Helsinki and Lahti. The Southeastern Finland Police have already conducted investigations into large-scale drug distribution which have involved partly the same people as the current investigation.

It appears from the criminal investigation that the criminal activity in southeastern Finland was led by two individuals, one of whom was serving a prison sentence throughout the period of commission of the suspected activity. This suspect orchestrated drug trafficking by communicating with the trafficking ring from prison. The other main suspect was convicted during the current criminal investigation of his previous aggravated narcotics offences. The criminal investigation to be referred for prosecution by the Southeastern Finland Police concerns eleven suspects.

– The organisation had a very hierarchical structure. All those involved had their own tasks for which they were paid a monthly salary. The organisation had to change its structure during the criminal investigation because its key figures were apprehended, but it was prepared for this and new figures soon took over, explains Head of Investigation, Detective Chief Inspector Lari Rönkä of the Southeastern Finland Police.

In the southeastern case, the suspects had an important role in communicating with those in other countries to place orders and arrange storage for the drugs, and to collect cash and deliver it to those abroad who arranged for the drugs to be smuggled into Finland. The criminal investigation shows that the amount of money increased in the same proportion as the smuggling of drugs, and towards the end up to thousands of euros were being moved each week. The total amount of cash seized during the criminal investigation by the Southeastern Finland Police is 260,000 euros, of which an amount of 169,000 euros was seized at one time.

Distribution ring in Lahti has links to United Brotherhood 

One of the major drug distribution points in the case was Lahti. An organised criminal group operating in the region received the drugs and distributed them further to a number of different buyers in Finland. Most of the members of this group have a background in United Brotherhood, a criminal organisation ordered to be abolished.

Encrypted means of communications were used to organise drug trafficking in this case as well, and the criminal activity was based on command structures and people's roles with specific tasks.

– The organised nature of the group was also evident in the fact that once the group got possession of the drugs, it immediately started to distribute them to buyers in a systematic and methodical manner. In many cases, the group managed to distribute up to tens of kilos of drugs further to several buyers in a few hours, says Head of Investigation Hans Fagerström of the NBI.

This criminal investigation has six suspects. Based on the investigation, the suspects used the proceeds of the drug trafficking to buy, among other things, fine jewellery and luxury watches. The value of such items seized from the suspects is tens of thousands of euros. 

– Just like in the case investigated by the Southeastern Finland Police, this case also involved continuous collection, transfer and delivery of cash. For example, around 1.2 million euros of cash were moved through one of the suspects, say Hans Fagerström.

Helsinki Police investigated supply and distribution of drugs

The Helsinki Police have investigated the supply and distribution of drugs in cooperation with other criminal investigation authorities.

The criminal investigation involves serious criminal suspicions against several persons who are suspected of having participated in supplying and distributing drugs smuggled into the country. 

– Some of the facts discovered during our investigation are clearly linked to specific drug deliveries. For some details, we have had to work harder to see the big picture. This has been very demanding for the investigators. The criminal investigation has not yet been totally completed, but it is in the final stage, says Head of Investigation, Detective Chief Inspector Toni Uusikivi of the Helsinki Police.

The offences investigated by the Helsinki Police are aggravated narcotics offences and aggravated money laundering.

The persons suspected of money laundering participated in the criminal activities of the organisation by collecting the cash received from the sale and distribution of drugs and by making related payments, among other things. The police believe that part of the cash has been transported abroad.

Some cases have already been considered by the district court, and for some cases the first instance judgements have been rendered. Decisions on the cases heard by the district court at the end of 2021 are expected by the end of February this year.

– The networked and multilingual Anom communication presented particular challenges to the criminal investigation. Evidence was gathered from huge amount of data, and a lot of translations were also needed, says Head of Investigation, Detective Chief Inspector Mikko Nikkanen of the Helsinki Police. 

Several persons were deprived of liberty during the criminal investigation conducted by the Helsinki Police Department. Less than ten suspects are still on remand. Some of them are top leaders of the drug supply and distribution ring, and some have roles at the lower levels of the organisation.

All the criminal investigations discussed in this press release will be submitted to the Prosecution District of Southern Finland for consideration of charges at the beginning of February. The overall number of suspects in the case is several dozen, 22 of whom are still on remand.

Operation Greenlight was successful thanks to cooperation

The Anom application was at the core of the drug trafficking described above. The groups involved used it for their internal communication, and also for communication between the groups. The Finnish Police were able to follow Anom communications as part of the international FBI-led Operation Greenlight. Anom was created by the FBI, and Anom data on people with links to different countries were disseminated to the authorities of these countries who participated in the operation.

The NBI received the first Anom messages from the FBI in February 2021. 

– Only two days after the first messages arrived, several police departments detected the distribution of 126 kilos of amphetamine and 90,000 ecstasy pills across the country. That first weekend already showed the great potential for the authorities, says the tactical leader for Operation Greenlight in Finland, Detective Chief Inspector Kimmo Sainio of the NBI.

Besides the NBI, the criminal investigation and detection units of all police departments and Customs participated in Operation Greenlight from the beginning. An organisation was set up for analysing and storing incoming messages and identifying people. It analysed the incoming data and transferred data to investigative units. Those analysing the data comprised members of all investigative units and the NBI Criminal Intelligence, and this soon proved to be effective. The Finnish authorities managed to identify from the messages with links to Finland over 200 suspected criminals operating in Finland and other countries.

– Cooperation between the different units involved was excellent from the very beginning. The operation was characterised by the fact that many criminal investigations were carried out in cooperation between units from several criminal investigation authorities. This is one of the great strengths of criminal investigation in Finland. In my judgement, cooperation is the primary reason why the Finnish authorities achieved such a good outcome from Operation Greenlight, says Kimmo Sainio.

During the detection stage of the operation in February–June 2021, the authorities managed to expose 21 ongoing incidents relating to illegal import or supply of drugs or to other criminal activity. In connection with seven incidents involving illegal import of drugs, the authorities seized 620 kilos of drugs in total in Finland and other countries. Furthermore, they intervened in violent debt collection twice during the operation. 

The international operation culminated in an action day on 7 June 2021, with simultaneous apprehensions made across the world. On that day, the Finnish authorities apprehended 47 persons in Finland, seven in Spain, four in Estonia, and one in Germany. Searches were made at 75 targets in different countries, and 150 kilos of drugs, 43 firearms, explosives and over 600,000 euros of cash were seized. The total number of apprehensions made by the Finnish authorities during Operation Greenlight exceeds a hundred.

In Operation Greenlight, the authorities mostly detected narcotics offences involving illegal import and distribution of drugs, and associated crime by criminal organisations. The criminal investigations concern at least 38 instances of illegal import of drugs in 2020 and 2021. It is suspected that about 2,200 kilos of different drugs and 100,000 ecstasy and Subutex pills were smuggled into Finland during that time. Around 900 kilos of this amount were seized in Finland and other countries. The three most smuggled drugs for Finland were marijuana (1,168 kg), amphetamine (890 kg) and cocaine (115 kg).

Photo 1: A suspect in the leadership of the drug smuggling organisation exchanged messages about the smuggling of large amounts of drugs into Finland. This photo of 156 kilos of marijuana was sent to the suspect. Photo: Police
Photo 2: The messages between suspects contained a lot of photos of the drugs to be delivered from one organisation to another. Photos of cocaine and amphetamine. Photo: Police
Photo 3: The Southeastern Finland Police seized marijuana, Subutex, amphetamine and ecstasy, among other drugs. Photo: Police
Photo 4: The Southeastern Finland Police seized a destroyed SkyECC phone. Photo: Police
Photo 5: A significant amount of cash was seized during the investigations. Cash seized by the Southeastern Finland Police. Photo: Police
Photo 6: A Finnish man living in Spain is suspected of acting as a middleman in drug trafficking and the sale of a 3D printed firearm. Photo of a semi-automatic firearm. Photo: Police
Photo 7: The distribution ring operating in Lahti used their proceeds from drug trafficking for jewellery worth tens of thousands of euros. Photo: Police
Anom phones seized by the police in the Forensic Laboratory's sample bags. The police seized 140 Anom phones during Operation Greenlight. Photo: Police
Kuvassa poliisin takavarikoimia Anom-puhelimia Rikosteknisen laboratorion näytepusseihin pakattuna. Poliisi takavarikoi yhteensä 140 Anom-puhelinta operaatio Greenlightin aikana. Kuva: Poliisi