The Southeast Finland Border Guard's crime prevention unit suspects that a criminal organisation has been arranging illegal immigration from Africa through Russia into Finland and other parts of the Schengen area.
It says that the group has brought at least 15 individuals into Finland, and more than 150 people into other Schengen countries in recent years. Authorities say that people were brought into Finland on ships and airplanes, on trains entering via the Vainikkala crossing point in Lappeenranta south-east Finland, and by car through the Salla border crossing point in Finnish Lapland during the winter of 2015-16 at least.
"It has become clear that they took advantage of the upsurge of asylum seekers into Finnish Lapland [that winter]," says Timo Häkkinen, lead investigator at the Southeast Finland Border Guard.
Drug offences, too
This past summer, the Border Guard carried out a major operation in the Helsinki region, detaining one Russian national on suspicion of into arranging illegal immigration.
"The man is now under arrest," Häkkinen told Yle this week.
The man is also suspected of aggravated drug offences for his alleged role in smuggling about two kilos of marijuana into Finland.
According to the preliminary investigation, the criminal organisation includes recruiters in various African countries, who bring clients to the main organisation in Russia. They were brought into Russia on the pretext of university studies, for instance. Once in Russia, the individuals were provided housing and fake documents to enter the passport-free Schengen zone.
"The people brought into Finland lacked the necessary travel documents," says Häkkinen.
$3,000 per person
The Border Guard says that the crime ring organised travel document counterfeiting outfits operating in various countries. It says that the organisation has made a profit on the operations, charging 3,000 US dollars or more than 2,500 euros for passage from Africa to Finland, for instance.
According to the preliminary investigation, the gang has earned tens of thousands of euros from counterfeiting documents alone.
"Some have disappeared"
Häkkinen tells Yle that he does not foresee more arrests in Finland. Authorities are unsure of the whereabouts of all the Africans who were brought to Finland.
"Some of them we know about, some have disappeared," says Häkkinen.
The case was handed over on Friday to the Salpausselkä Prosecutors' Office, which is to decide on charges by November 27.
Last summer officials uncovered another criminal group that had smuggled more than 150 people into Finland aboard a yacht that made at least seven trips from Russia on the cross-border Saimaa Canal.