Aggravated smuggling, tax crimes rising, Finnish Customs reports

Last year's increase of drug busts was partially due to more seizures of khat and cannabis.

A seized shipment of ecstasy tablets. Image: Tulli

Serious drug smuggling and tax evasion cases increased in Finland last year, according to Finnish Customs.

The agency said it uncovered more than 7,800 importation crimes, seizing more than 1,700 kg of illicit drugs last year - or about 700 kg more than in 2018.

The agency also uncovered more than 2,000 drug offences, 389 of which were aggravated, compared to 281 aggravated offences the previous year.

At the end of last year authorities announced that Finnish Customs, the National Bureau of Investigation and police departments across the country were investigating thousands of suspected offences related to the Finnish drug-selling site Silk Road (Silkkitie) on the hidden Tor network.

Also known as Valhalla, the dark web site began selling drugs and other illicit products in 2013. Authorities seized the Silkkitie server last May.

Last year, Customs uncovered around 7,000 drug importation crimes via the dark web site, the majority of which involved recreational drugs, doping substances and prescription meds.

Customs said its actions during 2019 on economic crimes saved the country 33 million euros, while its work on other violations saved society 66 million, according to an agency release issued Friday.

Khat, cannabis behind increase

Last year's increase of drug busts was partially due to more seizures of the drugs khat and cannabis. Khat is a plant native to parts of Africa and the Middle East which has stimulant properties similar to amphetamines when its leaves are chewed.

According to a survey from the National Institute of Health and Welfare last year, cannabis has become increasingly popular in Finland.

Customs said it seized more than 255 kg of cannabis last year, the highest amount in 13 years. The agency also seized around 33 kg of cocaine and 7 kg of the opioid heroin. In previous years heroin seizures were only a fraction of last year's amounts.

According to a report issued by the Finnish Medical Society Duodecim on Friday, the estimated number of problem opioid users in the country doubled from 15,000 individuals in 2012 to nearly 30,000 in 2017.

On the other side of the spectrum, Customs seized around 24 kg of methamphetamine and amphetamine, or about 22 kg less than the previous year. Customs said that the popularity of meth in Finland has decreased lately.

Prescription drugs, tobacco and booze

Customs also seized 117,000 prescription drugs. Half of those imports came from a single shipment of the tranquiliser Ritrovil.

The importation of the banned, orally-ingested tobacco product snus has been steadily increasing, too. Customs said it seized just under 5,000 kg of snus in 2019, which was more than double the amount just two years ago. The sale and smuggling of the product packaged in round tins has become a full-time profession in some corners of Finland, according to the agency.

Customs said it also seized 2.7 million cigarettes last year, which was about the same as in recent years. Meanwhile the agency uncovered more than 300 alcohol importation offences, and seized around 9,700 litres of booze from arriving passengers and seized 10,400 litres of alcoholic beverages that were shipped to Finland.

Officials also uncovered an increased number of tax evaders, the highest number in the past five years. The agency investigated more than 1,360 tax evasion cases - 149 of which were aggravated offences.

The majority of tax-related offences were connected to the illegal importation of tobacco products and alcohol, according to Customs.

The agency investigated a total of 1,294 tax evasion offences in 2018.