Three Finnish citizens are suspected of operating a sex services website and laundering millions of euros, according to Finland's National Bureau of Investigation (NBI).
The Finnish men, the main suspects in a major, years-long international probe, are being detained by authorities in Spain for questioning, the NBI said.
The men are suspected of having laundered up to 40 million euros gained from criminal activities since 2010. They are also the focus of an NBI preliminary investigation into aggravated pimping crimes thought to have been carried out in Finland.
Meanwhile, Spanish authorities are investigating the trio for money laundering and participation in organised crime activities including human trafficking.
NBI Detective Superintendent Mika Ihaksinen told Yle that the Finnish suspects were apprehended separately in Romania, Malta and Spain. All of the suspects had permanent addresses in Spain but were abroad when they were detained.
"The suspects are now in the Spanish criminal justice system, and their case will be completed at some point. At the same time the NBI is looking into suspicions of serious aggravated pimping crimes in Finland," Ihaksinen said.
"If they are convicted in Spain they will be sentenced there. After that, it will be possible to see what happens with a criminal case in Finland," he explained.
One of the suspects has a criminal conviction record for similar crimes that he is currently suspected of, according to Ihaksinen. However, the detective would not reveal the ages, professions or where in Finland they had previously lived.
The NBI began looking into the suspected crime group in 2012, while the international investigation started in 2016. The joint investigative team of Finnish, Swedish and Spanish authorities was established the following year.
"The effectiveness of cooperation between international authorities has ensured the success of the operation. The investigation has been going on for a long time and continues with, among other things, interrogating suspects," Ihaksinen stated in a release.
Eurojust: Scheme involved human trafficking
The European Union Agency for Law Enforcement Cooperation, better known as Europol, reported that the main Finnish suspect was based in Marbella, Spain where he is suspected of having managed a sex services website.
EU criminal justice agency Eurojust announced Wednesday that the operation included human trafficking in a scheme bringing women, mostly from Nigeria, to Finland and Sweden to work as prostitutes. Prostitution is not illegal in Finland, but pimping is a crime.
Finland's biggest daily Helsingin Sanomat reported on Wednesday that the website in question was the now-defunct sihteeriopisto.net, which connected buyers and sellers of sex services for nearly two decades until Spanish authorities intervened and took it offline last spring.
The site was Finland's best-known sex services website, but detective Ihaksinen did not confirm to Yle whether that specific site was the focus of the NBI probe.
However, a visit to that website address reveals it was shut down on 26 March by Spanish authorities, Eurojust and Europol.
Eurojust announced on Wednesday that it had assisted officials in 15 countries in taking down an organised crime gang suspected of pimping and money laundering.
The agency said a joint investigative team involving authorities from Spain, Finland and Sweden was set up to probe the suspected crime gang. Eurojust reported that nearly half a million euros in cash, illegal assets, luxury goods, forged documents and cryptocurrencies were seized during arrests of suspects in Malta, Romania and Finland.
Raids find cash, luxury goods
In a separate press release issued on Wednesday, Europol reported that it had arrested six individuals, shut down 16 websites and worked with authorities "to bring down the trafficking ring."
"On the joint action day [26 March], law enforcement authorities in Finland, Hong Kong, Malta, Romania and Spain operated simultaneously."
"Seventeen house and bank searches were carried out and six suspects were arrested. The seizures included luxury cars, jewellery, approximately €30,000 in cash, digital evidence and documentation related to the money laundering investigation, and real estate in Finland. Company shares and bank accounts with €1.5 million were frozen," Europol's release stated.