A SENIOR OFFICIAL at the Finnish Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment, Olli Sorainen, has been detained on suspicion of aggravated acceptance of a bribe and aggravated abuse of public office in connection with a human trafficking case revolving around a berry processing company called Polarica, reports Helsingin Sanomat.
The detention request was granted on Sunday by the District Court of Helsinki.
Two other people have been detained earlier in the pre-trial investigation on suspicion of aggravated trafficking in human beings.
“The suspicion in the pre-trial investigation is that the bribes have significantly benefited and facilitated official processes related to operating a berry-picking business,” Teemu Mäntyniemi, the detective chief inspector in charge of the pre-trial investigation at the National Bureau of Investigation (KRP), stated on Thursday.
Helsingin Sanomat on Friday reported that Sorainen has had a key role in planning measures to combat labour exploitation at the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment. He served as the chairperson of a ministry-appointed negotiating committee on preventing exploitation and took part in drafting the act adopted last year to improve the position of foreign berry pickers in Finland.
While the act has enabled occupational safety authorities to monitor the working conditions of berry pickers, it has also been criticised for being insufficient.
As Sorainen was detained on suspicion rather than for probable cause of the offences, the investigators will have to issue another request to the district court in order to extend the detention beyond one week. The suspected offences took place between early 2019 and Wednesday, 26 October 2022, according to Helsingin Sanomat.
Kimmo Nuotio, a professor of criminal law at the University of Helsinki, on Friday told the newspaper that it is very unusual for a high-ranking ministry official to be suspected of aggravated acceptance of a bribe and aggravated abuse of public office in Finland.
Minister of Employment Tuula Haatainen (SDP) on Saturday similarly described the suspicions as serious in an e-mail to the newspaper.
“We’re talking about relatively serious suspicions. I’m very sorry and sad about them,” she wrote. “We’ve done a lot of work during the current electoral term to prevent the exploitation of foreign labour. We’ll have to continue that work with even more determination.”
The other two suspects are Jukka Kristo, the managing director of Polarica, and the owner of the company that recruited pickers for Polarica in Thailand. Both of them have been in pre-trial detention since the beginning of the month, initially on suspicion of human trafficking and later of aggravated human trafficking.
The companies are believed to have engaged in human trafficking by deceiving, exploiting and subjecting the berry pickers to forced labour-like work. The pickers are believed to have been dependent on the employer and, for example, accommodated in poor conditions.
Mäntyniemi revealed earlier that the number of victims is believed to be dozens, although not all of them necessarily know or recognise that they have been victims of human trafficking.
The pre-trial investigation has been conducted in co-operation with law enforcement authorities in Thailand and Sweden. SVT, the public broadcasting company of Sweden, reported earlier this month that police had been notified about the suspicious operations by the Swedish Migration Agency.
Founded in 1972, Polarica is one of the largest companies in the wild berry industry of Finland. It operates also in Poland, Russia and Sweden.
Aleksi Teivainen – HT