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Tuesday's papers: Record drug bust, the return of Uber, tax war brewing, ski track rage

Tuesday's papers look at a probe into a major drug smuggling ring, possible Uber plans to restart operations in Helsinki, and the return of "ski track rage".

Uber taksi sovellus.
Image: B Christopher / AOP

The Kuopio-based Savon Sanomat this morning reports the Finnish Customs has uncovered a 178 million euro drug smuggling ring, the biggest professional operation of its kind in the country ever.

The paper says that arrests were made after Finnish Customs led an international investigation into the network that smuggled drugs from Germany and the Netherlands into Finland, Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Belgium, the UK, Spain and Italy.

The investigation began in 2015-2016 and one of the main suspects, a Dutch citizen, was arrested in Finland in 2016.

In a rare decision by a Finnish court, records in the case were sealed. The move was taken because of serious death threats to the suspect and his family.

Helsinki Appeal Court made the records public after it was determined that the criminal network is aware that the smuggler has cooperated with the authorities in their investigation.

The 46 year-old man confessed that he had personally smuggled 590kg of cocaine, 40kg of heroin, 40kg of amphetamines, 150kg of marijuana and over 9,300kg of hashish to various European countries.

On six separate occasions, he brought 20kg of amphetamines and 123kg of hashish into Finland.

He also pointed police to one of the gang’s warehouses in Denmark and was able to show that he was only one of a number of couriers used by the network.

He has been sentenced to a 13-year prison sentence. His Finnish buyer received a 6.5-year sentence and a 225,000 euro fine. That case is being appealed.

The return of Uber

The daily Helsingin Sanomat reports that the ridesharing and transportation service Uber should be back in operation in Finland next summer.

Uber Finland was banned for operating an unlicensed taxi service and in the summer of 2017, 250,000 euros of the personal assets of head of its Finnish operations were frozen in anticipation of a court case. An appeal court struck down that ruling in December. However, a criminal investigation into possible violations by Uber is continuing

New legislation will be taking effect in July allowing ridesharing businesses. Uber plans to restart offerings in Helsinki and maybe expand to other cities. According to Helsingin Sanomat, Uber may have competition. It says that the founder of the low-fare bus service Onnibus is planning to possibly also roll out a ridesharing app.

Joel Järvinen, Uber’s country manager for Finland, told that paper that Uber will allow anyone to drive as long as they fulfill legal requirements.

While new legislation eases some restrictions on taxi businesses, drivers will continue to be required to be tested and licensed. Details of the licensing process have not yet been fixed, but are expected to be announced by the end of this month.

In December, an EU court ruling classed Uber as a taxi service that member countries can regulate.

Tax war looming?

According to Oulu's Kaleva, a taxation policy expert at the Confederation of Finnish Industries EK believes that taxes on digital services could be the next phase of a looming trade war between the US and the European Union.

The European Commission is expected to soon present a proposal on taxation of digital services which would impose higher taxes in the form of VAT in Europe on American companies such as Google, Facebook and Twitter. The move is being backed especially by the bigger EU countries, Germany, France, Italy and Spain.

The EK's Virpi Pasanen told Kaleva that not only would the plan be difficult to sustain, it could be a violation of international agreements.

A leaked draft of the Commission's proposal names a number of American companies.

"If VAT on company revenues is specifically targeted at American companies, we will be faced by a tax war, along with a trade war," said Pasanen.

Ski track rage

Road rage is a well-known phenomenon, but how about ski track rage?

The tabloid Ilta-Sanomat today reports a spate of incidences in which cross-country skiers on public tracks have shouted, threatened, and even attacked people for going too slow for their taste, or walking across the trail.

In an email to the paper, Social Democratic MP Satu Taavitsainen recounted one incident in her hometown of Mikkeli where a skier cursed and shouted at a group of young girls who got too close to the track while sledding, and another in which a skier struck a pregnant woman with a ski pole for getting in the way.

Taavitsainen, who is also the deputy chair of Mikkeli's city council, says that people have to stand up and show that they won't tolerate this kind of behaviour. The matter will be discussed at a council meeting on Monday, and Taavitsainen has threatened to propose that the city stop maintaining public ski tracks, if the situation doesn't change.

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