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International crime gang stands trial over €20m drug shipments hidden in houseplants

There are nearly 30 defendants standing trial, with proceedings expected to continue until the end of June.

The drugs are suspected to have been concealed among flowers and houseplants delivered to Finland from the Netherlands. Image: Keskusrikospoliisi

A large-scale drugs trial begins in Helsinki District Court on Wednesday as nearly 30 defendants stand accused of importing illegal drugs into Finland by hiding them in shipments of flowers and houseplants.

A pre-trial investigation by police uncovered evidence that 17 drug shipments from the Netherlands took place between mid-2018 and May of last year, involving drugs with an estimated street value of more than 20 million euros.

The list of defendants in the case includes citizens of Finland and of other countries, but two Dutch men, aged 44 and 47, are believed to be the main organisers of the operation.

Police suspect they established a company to import Dutch flowers and houseplants into Finland via the port of Vuosaari in eastern Helsinki. They then obtained drugs in the Netherlands which were packed and hidden among the legitimate cargo for transport to Finland.

Once in Finland, the drugs were usually dropped off at locations along the route when flowers and plants were delivered to stores, and then picked up by customers.

The cargo shipping company is not suspected of involvement in the alleged crimes.

International, professional operation

Police believe that the main customers were two separate criminal organisations based in the Helsinki region, one mostly made up of people from East Africa and the other mainly of people from the Middle East.

Criminal groups of foreign origin have taken over the drug trade in the capital region, Helsinki police say.

"These groups are united by either ethnic origin or by the same language. This story is a pretty good example of how drug trafficking and organised crime operates in the metropolitan area. It is truly international," Helsinki police department inspector Markku Heinikari told news agency STT, adding that the group’s activities are very "professional and well-organised."

"They are drug professionals. They have strong international connections with professional criminals in other countries," he said.

In addition to the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) and the Helsinki police, the case was also investigated by police departments in Ostrobothnia, Häme and South-East Finland.

A Finnish citizen is suspected of having ordered several consignments of drugs from the Netherlands to Finland. The consignments were large and included a wide range of different illegal drugs including cocaine, amphetamines and ecstasy, investigating officers understand.

The suspect has no significant previous criminal background, police added.

The trial is expected to continue until the end of June.