Police find suspected human trafficking in construction sector

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An organisation consisting of different companies and individuals in the construction sector allegedly deceived several dozen workers into coming to work in Finland in circumstances such as forced labour, said the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) on Tuesday.

The NBI together with the National Criminal Police of Estonia completed the investigation into the incidents and suspected 11 persons of 21 offences of aggravated human trafficking and one aggravated employment pension insurance contribution fraud, said NBI in a press release.

The suspects gained criminal proceeds of more than 2.3 million euros from this activity.

Ten suspects came from Estonia and one from Finland. Out of the 11, seven suspects were remanded during the criminal investigation, and two of them are still held on remand. These two are Estonian citizens.

The NBI referred the case to the Prosecutor of Southern Finland for considering charges.

It is suspected that foreign workers were lured to Finland from Latvia and Estonia to work here in circumstances such as forced labour.

During the criminal investigation, the police identified 21 possible victims of the suspected aggravated human trafficking.

Besides aggravated trafficking in human beings, the suspected offences include an aggravated employment pension insurance contribution fraud.

The criminal investigation has established that the suspects recruited workers for various tasks in the construction industry through the companies that they had set up.

They allegedly exploited the workers by deceiving and misleading them and by putting them in debt so that it could not be considered that the workers had offered themselves for the work voluntarily.

“The suspects exploited the victims’ dependent status on their employer which was due to the lack of means and language skills. We also suspect that violence or the threat of violence was used on some workers,” said Head of Investigation, Detective Chief Inspector of the NBI Marko Heinonen.

The police believe that many victims worked in poor working conditions with long working days and with no possibility for breaks. In many cases, the employer failed, fully or partly, to pay the victims’ wages.

The police suspect that the offences were committed by an organisation mainly consisting of Estonian persons and operating in a methodical manner.

Those leading the activity and those persons behind the organisation have been classified in Estonia as individuals who have been involved in a criminal organisation.

It is suspected that the organisation sought to disguise the criminal activity by setting up separate companies for transferring and concealing its criminal proceeds.

The suspects appointed a Finnish managing director for the company which is at the centre of the criminal activity, but the director has no actual decision-making power within the company.

According to the criminal investigation, the Finnish managing director has never been paid any salary but was appointed to make the company look better from outside and to make it more difficult to discover the criminal activity.

The police estimate that the organisation recruited hundreds of workers to Finland from other countries in 2020–2022. Most of the victims are Latvian, Estonian and Ukrainian citizens.

“We have identified 21 victims in the case. The real number of victims may be much higher. Trafficking in human beings is often a hidden crime, and the victims do not necessarily even know that they have become victims of crime. It is also challenging to get contact with those who have returned to their home country,” said Heinonen.

The Finnish construction companies for which the victims worked are not suspected of any criminal offences.

The criminal suspicions focus on the organised activity which was created around a billing service company operating in Finland and which consisted of exploiting light entrepreneurship.

The suspects agreed with the representatives of construction businesses operating in Finland on the recruitment and supply of workers to the companies.

The police believe that the suspects arranged contracts concerning the victims’ working between the construction businesses and the separate companies they had set up and thus gained significant criminal proceeds for themselves.

The police believe that the workers were registered for the billing service company as light entrepreneurs without their knowledge of this arrangement or the meaning of light entrepreneurship.

In reality, they had an employment relationship under employment law, and the company was obliged to ensure their working conditions.

“The aim of said arrangement was to avoid the employer’s responsibilities, reduce salary, transfer money from the victims to the suspects, and avoid employment pension insurance contributions. Light entrepreneurship enabled artificial reduction of salary by cutting related costs,” said Heinonen.

The organisation promised the workers free accommodation in Finland, and salary for the work done. However, the workers found out later on that their working conditions did not correspond to what had been agreed.

They actually had to pay for accommodation, and different costs such as working clothes and equipment were deducted from their salary, contrary to what had been agreed. The employer gave fines to the victims and deducted sums from their salary for reasons such as absence, poorly done work or use of phone during working hours.

The criminal investigation has established that the victims’ salary was eventually so low that they ran into debt with their employer.

Many victims found themselves in a situation where they could not afford to return to their home country but had to continue working against their will.

  •  NBI
  •  Human Trafficking
  •  Construction

Source: www.dailyfinland.fi

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