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HBL: Police investigating suspected extortion of Vietnamese greenhouse workers

Dozens of Vietnamese labourers are suspected of being victims of extortion and possibly human trafficking in a small town in western Finland.

A greenhouse in Närpes (file photo). Image: Yle/Jukka Tyni

Police are probing suspected exploitation of Vietnamese people brought to Finland to work at vegetable farms in the west-coast region of Ostrobothnia.

Dozens of Vietnamese labourers are suspected of being victims of extortion and possibly human trafficking in the small town of Närpes in western Finland, according to the newspaper Hufvudstadsbladet (HBL).

The suspects in the case are a Vietnamese couple and two greenhouse entrepreneurs based in Närpes (Närpiö), the Swedish-language daily reported on Sunday.

A Vietnamese broker is said to have charged compatriots 10,000 to 20,000 euros each to bring them to Finland to work at the greenhouses, the paper said, citing "systematic and long-term import of Vietnamese labour".

On arrival, they have received help in arranging the necessary permits, and then been put to work immediately. The arrivals include single people, couples and families with children.

According to local sources, some of the newly arrived workers have been housed in cramped, rudimentary and isolated facilities. Without information about Finnish laws, ability to speak Finnish or Swedish (the predominant local language), they have been unable to question their inhuman working conditions.

Local couple in custody

A well-known local Vietnamese business couple were formally placed under arrest by the Ostrobothnia District Court on Friday, the paper said. Two other suspects were detained.

On Friday, Yle reported that the National Bureau of Investigation had teamed up with police in Helsinki and Ostrobothnia for a major financial crime investigation centring on Närpes and Vaasa, and that two people had been detained. The case was then said to be related to extortion, illegal entry and exploitation of workers.

According to HBL, charges could include suspected human trafficking by the time the case is handed to a prosecutor.

"We currently have four victims who have agreed to talk to police. We suspect that there may have been dozens of people over several years, but so far none of them wanted to say anything," said Inspector Pekka Hätönen, who heads the human trafficking unit at the Helsinki Police Department.

Meanwhile police in Ostrobothnia are investigating two local greenhouse entrepreneurs on other possible criminal charges. According to HBL, one of them is a significant player in the region and some of the workers who have been brought to Finland under improper conditions have primarily worked at his greenhouse. At this stage, the greenhouse owner are not suspected of extortion, but are being investigated for financial irregularities.