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Co-founder of award winning startup embroiled in money laundering scandal

One of four Finnish men being held in Spain has been dismissed from his role with mobile payment startup iQ Payments.

 Pysäytyskuva Europolin 10. heinäkuuta 2019 julkistamasta videosta.
Spanish police searched the home of the suspected criminals in March. Image: Lehtikuva

One of the suspects in an international criminal investigation into the operating of a sex services website and the laundering of millions of euros is a significant shareholder and founding member of an award-winning Finnish technology company.

According to Spanish police, the man is suspected of money laundering, which refers to the concealing of illegally obtained money through legitimate businesses.

The CEO of iQ Payments, Tuomo Parjanen, told Yle that the individual has been dismissed from his role and that the company is not involved in any criminal investigation.

"We have nothing to do with his (the unnamed shareholder's) private business. This came as a complete surprise to all board members and shareholders," Parjanen said.

Finland's National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) back up Parjanen's statement by confirming that the investigation was not related to any Finnish company.

Finnish and Spanish police suspect four foreign-based Finnish nationals of being involved in criminal activity in this case.

One of the men was previously named in Finnish media as the administrator of sihteeriopisto.net, a sex services website which served customers in Finland and Sweden for nearly two decades before it was shut down by Spanish authorities, Eurojust and Europol in March 2019. Another of the suspects is known by police to have previously run a brothel in Finland.

Company premises searched

According to Parjanen, the company was first informed of the investigation when the NBI searched the company's premises on March 26. Parjanen also provided a witness statement on that date.

"As soon as we became aware of the matter, we took action, meaning we removed all his rights and obligations," said Parjanen.

The suspected man's employment has been terminated and he has been dismissed from the board of directors. However, he is still a partner in iQ Payments.

Pysäytyskuva Europolin 10. heinäkuuta 2019 julkistamasta videosta.
Images from the search of a property by Spanish police revealed Finnish passports. Image: Lehtikuva

Yle is prohibited from publishing the name of the man because he is not a public figure and is only suspected of committing a crime at this time. Yle attempted but was unable to contact the man in custody in Spain.

The NBI, which is leading the investigation in Finland, would not comment on the identity of the suspects due to the ongoing investigation.

Huge international police operation

On 26 March 2019, Spanish police arrested four Finnish men in Marbella on the Costa del Sol. Three of them are also suspected of pimping crimes in Finland.

The arrests were part of an extensive international criminal investigation into pimping, membership of a criminal organisation and money laundering.

The investigation was centred around the popular sihteeriopisto.net website as well as another sex-selling site.

Marbellan turistirantaa.
The Finnish suspects had been living on the Costa del Sol in Spain. Image: YLE/Arja Lento

The suspected involvement of the iQ Payments shareholder in the case was also indirectly revealed in a video published by the Spanish police of the search of a home in Marbella. In the video, an iQ Payments shareholder credit card and business card can be seen on a desk.

Moving to the Spanish coast

The suspect is originally from the southern Finnish city of Turku, and was a founding member of iQ Payments in 2013.

The company trades under the name PayiQ, and according to its own website is a "mobile ticketing platform for transport operators and city event organisers."

The technology developed by the company has gained much praise, including being named 'Best Mobile Service 2018' at the Finnish technology and growth enterprise event Slush in Helsinki.

By 2018, the app developed by the company was in use by several Finnish municipalities for the sale of public transportation tickets. The company has also received hundreds of thousands of euros in public support, including loans from the public funding agency Business Finland.

The suspect had been living for the past few years in Marbella, where he continued to work for iQ Payments.

The administrator of the sihteeriopisto.net website also lived on the Spanish coast.

The sex services site had previously been hosted in Finland, but a tightening of pimping laws in Finland in 2012 led to the host moving first to the Netherlands and then to Spain.

Police suspect the iQ Payments shareholder and the sex site systems administrator subsequently became acquainted in Spain, where it is believed they have a joint business venture.

The NBI has not yet been able to question the suspects in Finland, because they are still being held in custody in Spain.

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