Finland’s organised crime gangs are increasingly focusing their efforts on economic crimes, according to the National Bureau of Investigation NBI.
Traditionally, gang-related criminal activity has been linked with drugs and loansharking.
But now that picture is changing.
“Today, crime is increasingly linked to the construction and automotive industries,” says Tuija Hietaniemi of the NBI.
She estimates that all the major gangs are already involved in economic crime. One reason for their shifted focus in recent years, is that the risks are smaller, and potential prison sentences are also shorter than for violent crimes.
Currently, the NBI is investigating an extensive crime ring in the capital city region, where members of the Bandidos gang are among the suspects.
Police suspect them of large scale tax and bookkeeping fraud involving construction companies. Officials have uncovered bank accounts with more than €10m going through them from 2013 to 2017.
Police say there are also experts in the various industries, who are willing to sell their services and knowledge to organised criminal gangs.
“Economic crime requires knowledge of the actors and the industry, and you can do business by selling this knowledge” says Rabbe von Hertzen of the National Bureau of Investigation, who adds that in the construction industry for example, criminal activity can be hidden under layers of shell companies, fake invoices and corrupted bookkeeping which would require detailed knowledge of the industry to achieve.
Tuija Hietaniemi says it is common for employees with debts to become involved in crime.
“When people manage to get out of debt pressure, we see lower crime rates. This is something we have experienced” she adds.
According to the police, at the highest level of criminal activities, they’re not just seeing gang leaders, but also people involved in legitimate legal businesses, who do not necessarily commit crimes themselves. They could be guilty if they benefit in any way from the proceeds of criminal activities.
“These gangs also have connections to the business world. When legal business is mixed up with illegality, it is relatively east to get the proceeds of crime to look like legally-earned money” says Rabbe von Hertzen.
One reason behind the move into economic crime for Finnish criminal gangs, is potential pressure from abroad.
“The criminal market in Finland is feeling an increasing pressure from groups that are active elsewhere in Europe” says Hietaniemi.
“We have already observed that criminal organisations operating in other parts of Europe are trying to expand their territory to Finland”, von Hertzen agrees.