THE DISTRICT COURT of Lapland has issued orders to sequestrate around 1.5 million euros worth of assets on grounds of suspicions of aggravated human trafficking connected to berry pickers recruited from Thailand to Finland, reports Helsingin Sanomat.
The human trafficking is believed to have taken place in Northern Finland in 2020–2022.
Sequestration is a legal measure intended to safeguard the compensation claims of crime victims by preventing the suspect from concealing or dispensing of their assets.
Helsingin Sanomat on Thursday wrote that about one-third of the assets belong to the managing director of Kiantama, a wild berry company based in Suomussalmi, Kainuu. The remaining two-thirds belong to the former managing director and majority owner of Polarica, a berry company registered in Rovaniemi.
The Finnish Border Guard and National Bureau of Investigation (KRP) are presently investigating a human trafficking case revolving around two Finnish berry companies and a Thai company that has helped to recruit berry pickers to Finland. While authorities have not disclosed the names of the companies at the heart of the pre-trial investigation, it has been reported previously that one of the companies is Polarica.
Polarica issued a press release commenting on the pre-trial detention of its now former managing director, Jukka Kristo, in October 2022.
Vernu Vasunta, the managing director of Kiantama, has refrained from commenting on whether the other company implicated in the investigation is Kiantama.
Vasunta in December messaged Helsingin Sanomat that he has been interviewed by police in his capacity as managing director in connection with an inquiry linked to berry pickers.
“I can say for my part that we’ve complied with Finnish laws and official guidelines concerning the berry-picking industry in all our operations. We won’t be commenting on the ongoing investigation in further detail at this point,” he wrote in an e-mail to the daily newspaper.
The criminal allegations have been denied by all suspects, according to Teemu Mäntyniemi, the detective superintendent in charge of the investigation at KRP. Mäntyniemi told Helsingin Sanomat last week that the number of suspected victims of human trafficking has risen above 100, a sharp rise from the few dozen cited earlier by investigators.
“At the moment, we’ve identified more than a hundred victims,” he said.
The Thai berry pickers are believed to have been deceived, exploited and subjected to forced labour-like conditions by the two companies at the centre of the investigation. They were also accommodated in appalling conditions.
Helsingin Sanomat in January reported that Kiantama, one of the largest wild berry companies in Finland, has repeatedly faced scrutiny from occupational safety authorities over the conditions of Thai pickers.
Aleksi Teivainen – HT