Two men, an Estonian citizen and a Russian national, were ordered to be remanded in custody by Southwest Finland District Court. The suspects appeared at two separate hearings remotely from Vantaa District Court on Tuesday afternoon.
Following an extensive police investigation into a real estate company's dealings in the Turku archipelago, the men are suspected of aggravated money laundering and aggravated tax fraud offences. The National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) said all potential suspects in the case have not yet been reached and officials would not comment on how many suspects there might be.
One of the suspects ordered held on remand on Tuesday is a 36-year-old Russian citizen and former board member of Airiston Helmi while the other, a 51-year-old Estonian national, is allegedly connected to the firm through ownership of telephone subscriptions related to the firm, according to news agency STT. A third individual was also detained by police but has since been released.
Police need to present more evidence against the two men within one week or they will have to be released.
Real estate firm focus of probe
The investigation centres around the activities of real estate company Airiston Helmi, which spent millions buying up land in the Turku archipelago in recent years. The Airiston Helmi firm is registered in the municipality of Pargas, an island village.
The NBI's chief investigator in the case, Tomi Taskila said that the agency has called on external help from international law enforcement investigators to look into suspicions of aggravated money laundering. Taskila did not specify the country or countries but did say that they do not include Russia or Estonia.
The call for international assistance is based on crimes related to preparation of money laundering, regarding funds from another country that were laundered in Finland, Taskila said on Tuesday.
Police said officers raided 17 locations in the Turku archipelago over the weekend and found large amounts of cash at several of the sites. The NBI said the exact sum of the money found was not yet known, but that the sums found were of varying sizes, the largest being a 500,000-euro stash found in two plastic bags which were sent to a special unit to be counted.
Along with the cash, investigators also reportedly seized computer gear containing more than 200 terabytes of data in the weekend operation. The NBI said the data files were the most interesting pieces of evidence uncovered during the raids.
President knew about case
President Sauli Niinistö said on Tuesday that he has long been aware of the investigation that led up to the large-scale operation in Turku over the weekend.
Niinistö said the operation was so extensive because of the significant number of Airiston Helmi's properties. Taking part in the operation were some 100 NBI investigators and about 300 authorities from other agencies, including the Border Guard and local police.
Niinistö said he has long been concerned about Russian land purchases in strategically significant regions of Finland. The president went on to say that the police operation will have no effect on the diplomatic relationship between Finland and Russia.
Niinistö commented on developments in the case from New York City, where he is participating at the UN General Assembly.
Niinistö declined to comment when asked whether the Finnish government should seize the Airiston Helmi-owned land, noting that the state does not have the justification to seize property that was sold many years ago.
The president added that Finland should update legislation to ensure that similar transactions are more closely monitored in future.