News |

Ten on trial for Helsinki street sales of anxiety pills

Finnish police say that this past summer's drug seizures were the largest of their kind in Europe.

Poliisin takavarikoimia Rivotril-tabletteja.
Authorities have seized large volumes of the anti-anxiety drug Rivotril. Image: Helsingin poliisi

Ten Romanian men went on trial at Helsinki District Court on Tuesday, accused of smuggling and dealing tranquilizer pills.

One denied all charges, while others admitted involvement but said they were just hired to drive vehicles without knowing that they were carrying drugs.

The prosecutor says that they earned more than 100,000 euros, which should be forfeited to the state.

"Largest on the European scale"

This past summer, police have seized more than 400,000 tablets of the anti-seizure and anti-anxiety medication clonazepam, and detained more 20 suspects.

"Police have confiscated more than 400,000 2-mg Rivotril tablets," said Helsinki police drug squad chief Jukka Paasio said in late July. "More than 20 individuals are in pre-trial detention, all of them foreigners." Yle learned that they are Romanians.

Finnish police described this as the largest seizure of illicit pharmaceutical tablets "on the European scale".

The 10 people in the dock on Tuesday are suspected of aggravated drug offences.

Another branch of the same investigation began in early September at Helsinki District Court. In that case, three foreigners stand accused of possession of more than 1,000 Rivotril pills.

Organised distribution operation

Police say that the packaging, importing and distribution are all organised operations, directed from continental Europe.

Most of the tablets have been found hidden in vehicles entering Finland from Sweden via Tornio. Police have found about at least six such deliveries between March and July. More pills were confiscated in September.

"The largest single smuggling event was in late June. At that point, a column made of several vehicles drove from Hungary to Finland through Tornio. About 350,000 pills were found concealed within the structures of the vehicles," says Toni Uusikivi of Helsinki Police in a statement. The vehicles had been loaded in Budapest.

50 cents to €1 per pill on the street

Most of the smuggled pills ended up in southern Finland. They were peddled on the street in jars of 100 tablets for between 50 and 100 euros.

Clonazepam is a benzodiazepine or "benzo", sold in other countries under the brand names Rivotril or Klonopin, but by Finnish pharmacies as Rivatril – presumably because in Finnish "rivo" means filthy or obscene.

In July, Yle reported that some Eastern European Roma were selling the pills openly around Helsinki's main railway station, some while also selling the charity newspaper Iso Numero (The Big Issue). The NGO that publishes the newspaper, Kultti, told Yle it was trying to weed out vendors who were also drug dealers, noting that there is a similar problem in most of the 40 countries where similar publications are sold by street vendors.

Latest in: News


Our picks