Thai berry pickers in a forest in Juva, Southern Savonia, in July 2015. Prosecutors in Northern Finland have charged Vernu Vasunta, the managing director of Kiantama, with 56 counts of aggravated human trafficking over the living and working conditions of pickers the company recruited from Thailand. (Mikko Stig – Lehtikuva)

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PROSECUTORS in Northern Finland have brought a number of criminal charges against the managing director of a berry processing company, reports YLE.

Vernu Vasunta, the managing director of Kiantama, has been charged with 56 counts of aggravated human trafficking over the treatment of berry pickers the company, one of the largest of its kind in Finland, recruited from Thailand.

Human trafficking charges have also been brought to his business partner in Thailand.

The berry pickers are believed to have been subjected to working conditions resembling forced labour and other conditions violating their human rights in various parts of Finland in 2022. Both Vasunta and Kiantama have denied the criminal accusations.

“The process leading up to this has been heavy, but I have tried to comply with Finnish laws in all my activities as managing director. I have not knowingly participated in any criminal activity. I have acted with a sincere mind, and I am confident the trial will prove my innocence,” Vasunta commented in a press release from Kiantama.

Matti Sipilä, the board chairperson at Kiantama, said Vasunta continues to enjoy the full confidence of both the board and owners, and will continue to serve as managing director as usual.

The criminal allegations extend also to another leading wild berry company in Finland, Polarica. Prosecutors in Northern Finland are currently deliberating whether to bring aggravated human trafficking charges against the ex-managing director of the company, Jukka Kristo.

Aleksi Teivainen – HT

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