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Supreme Court sentences berry picking boss to prison on human trafficking charges

A district court had previously handed down a 20-month suspended sentence in the case, which was reduced to 16 months by the appeals court.

A photograph taken by police during the initial investigation showed some of the conditions the victims were forced to live under. Image: Sisä-Suomen poliisilaitos

The Supreme Court has sentenced the head of a Central Finland berry picking firm to one year and ten months in prison on 26 charges of human trafficking.

The victims in the case were all from Thailand, and had been forced to work 15-hour days for little or no pay, as their earnings went to pay off debts accrued from their journey to Finland.

The defendant received a 20-month suspended prison sentence in January 2018 for trafficking 26 people from Thailand, as well as for charges of fraud and violations of waste management laws.

The Vaasa Court of Appeal reduced this sentence to 16 months in February 2020, ruling that the defendant should be found guilty of one human trafficking charge against 26 individuals, rather than 26 separate human trafficking charges.

However, the Supreme Court overturned this decision, finding instead that there were 26 separate offences in the case, as the defendant had violated the individual freedom, self-determination and personal safety of each of the berry pickers.

The court also upheld the convictions for fraud and violations of waste management laws. Due to the seriousness of the crime, the court imposed a prison sentence on the defendant even though this is a first-time offence.

The appeals court had previously upheld the earlier decision by the district court to ban the defendant from running a business for three years as well as to pay a total of 200,000 euros in damages to the 26 plaintiffs in the case.

Events took place in summer 2016

The boss of the berry picking firm had recruited the 26 victims from Thailand and arranged for their travel to the town of Hankasalmi in Central Finland in the summer of 2016 to work as pickers.

The victims were placed in accommodation on a property owned by the company, which the appeals court later ruled was dangerous due to violations of fire, safety and health regulations and was not suitable for housing. The pickers were accommodated in trailers and shipping containers, which also hosted their sanitary and food preparation facilities.

They were also given insufficient guidance in carrying out their tasks and therefore did not collect enough berries, which resulted in lower wages.

The pickers were also dependent on the company as their passports were withheld by the firm's boss.

They were unable to return home earlier as they did not have enough money to pay for changing their flights and were forced instead to continue picking berries in order to repay their perceived debt for travel and living costs.