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Monday's papers: A closer look at Airiston Helmi's land grab and speeding penalty changes

Finland's press zeros in on a real estate firm that was apparently the target of a major police operation over the weekend, and coming road traffic law changes.

Airiston Helmen Villa Ybbersnäsin ranta-alue kuvattuna ilmasta Paraisilla 23. syyskuuta.
A seaside property owned by Airiston Helmi in Ybbernäs. Image: Veijo Lindgren / Lehtikuva

This Monday, the daily Helsingin Sanomat delved deeper into the land ownership of Airiston Helmi, a real estate firm that was apparently the target of a large-scale police operation this last weekend.

Using information from the National Land Survey of Finland, the paper mapped out the land owned by the firm in the Turku archipelago. The result shows that the company owns several islands and lots along strategically-important maritime routes connecting the city of Turku with the Åland Islands.

The National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) says the search operation was prompted by suspicions that a company in the area was involved in an extensive international money laundering scheme. Seven people were questioned and three were taken into custody, one of which was later released. The NBI has refused to name the company or the suspects, but locals nevertheless reported to the paper that police vehicles were seen at several Airiston Helmi business locations.

Airiston Helmi was established in Finland in 2007 as a real estate ownership and rental firm providing accommodation services. Analysis of the firm's business dealings gives the picture of a very small, highly-indebted high-risk company, the paper says, and yet it has been able to regularly buy and sell properties in southwest Finland for millions of euros.

HS says a Russian man who serves on the Airiston Helmi board bought the entire Säckilot area of Pargas in the Turku archipelago for 4.5 million euros. The man and Airiston Helmi bought an additional 3.8 million euros of real estate in the area between 2007 and 2014. Most of the properties in question have vacation homes. Altogether, HS says the company owns 50.45 hectares of land.

A far-fetched security risk

The tabloid Ilta-Sanomat speaks with military expert Arto Pulkki about the Airiston Helmi case. He says it there is no reason to consider the company a security risk just because a Russian man leads it.

Pulkki tells IS that the idea that Russia would be stocking up on real estate in the Turku archipelago in preparation for some kind of Baltic Sea crisis is far-fetched – especially if the Finnish authorities have been aware of the deals and have been clearly monitoring them for years. He says the only benefit he could think of for Russia would be the opportunity the locations give for peace-time surveillance.

"I suppose they could observe and evaluate the area traffic, but Finland has so little naval equipment that tracking it would be trivial. They could just as easily do that from the deck of a yacht, without any spying paraphernalia. Maritime intelligence would be useful preceding a military crisis, but once again, it would be more useful for them to have intelligence on islands that are not registered under Russian names in the property register," Pulkki tells IS.

He says that, in principle, the islands could be used to shoot offshore missiles to hinder merchant shipping, but this too could be done "much more safely" on the open sea with guided anti-ship missiles that have a range of hundreds of kilometres.

The tabloid also reports some added details in the case: In 2014, all of the Airiston Helmi board members were Russian citizens, but in 2016 a 63-year-old Italian man and a 46-year-old female resident of the Finnish municipality of Pargas were added to the board.

Russian press shows an interest

The Tampere newspaper Aamulehti carries a story on how the Russian media followed the details of the Turku area operation carefully. The Russian news agency Tass joined many others in reporting on the large-scale search of many business premises that included 100 officers, as the NBI enlisted the help of the Border Guard, the Southwest Finland Police Department and the Defence Forces.

The Russian media has also reported on the number of people questioned and detained as part of the operation. The fact that some of the law enforcement officers involved in the operation were reportedly wearing commando masks and carrying machine guns was also noted by the Russian press.

Aamulehti says the St Petersburg news website Fontanka referenced a 2015 story from the Finnish tabloid Iltalehti that exposed the ten-year land grab in the Turku archipelago. It also pointed out the surveillance possibilities that the locations provided to monitor the deep water connections to important ports in the southwest cities of Turku and Naantali.

No more license losses over minor speeding offenses

And in other news, the Joensuu daily Karjalainen reports on new road traffic laws that will end the strict current Finnish practice of revoking driver's licenses for between 1-6 months after three speeding offenses in the span of one year or four speeding offenses over two years.

The new law, which won't come into effect until June 2020, will impose fines for repeated minor traffic offences instead. If a motorist is caught going 3-6 km/h over the speed limit, he or she will receive a warning. An infraction of 7-20 km/h over the limit will lead to a standard fine.

For serious speeding offences of over 21 km/h over the limit - and various other traffic offences - the fine will still be determined according to the driver's income, relying on taxation data for the previous year. Police officers can also confiscate the driver's license immediately in serious cases, for example, if he or she is caught going 36 km/h over the limit.

"According to the future law, repeated speeding offenses would no longer accrue towards revoking a license, if the infractions remain under 10 km/h in areas with speed limits under 60 and under 15 km/h in areas with speed limits over 60," a Police Traffic Safety Centre representative tells the paper.

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