Why should we support research on transnational organized crime in Finland?

December 22, 2021

Transnational organized crime is growing and getting harder in Finland, warns the Finnish National Bureau of Investigation. As Sweden already faces a difficult situation with transnational organized crime, including heavy gun violence, Finland has to be well prepared too. Especially Southern Finland faces many phenomena, such as foreign based gangs, more drugs on the streets as well as young people from different ethnic backgrounds, including Finnish citizens, attending organized crime groups, such as Mantaqa. It has also been investigated that many of the young people carry knives or other weapons for their security, especially in Helsinki area. New criminal gangs, organized normally by young people, may be born around this phenomenon too. Concerning drugs and weapons, we should also consider the strategies and methods organized crime groups use to widen and harden their activities across Finland in order to slow it down with our recent tools. Researchers’ will to share knowledge is also a form to battle the phenomenon.

The direction of Finnish organized crime development can be compared with Swedish situation. However, Finland does not witness as hard criminal acts as Sweden, just yet. According to the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime report, Sweden’s organized criminal climate has changed a lot since 1990’s when mafia from Yugoslavia, “Juggemaffian”, controlled the organized crime landscape in Stockholm. As they focused more on protection racketeering and extortion, the new criminal situation includes hard trafficking of arms, gun violence, multiethnic gangs (Swedish and foreign) with various illegal businesses, such as drug distribution in certain areas and neighborhoods, recruiting very young people as well as a high number of murders and shots. About illegal arms, the rise of Kalashnikov assault rifles, Serbian manufactured Zastava pistols (1/3 of the illegal pistols are Zastava pistols among organized crime groups in Sweden), hand grenades as well as modified starter pistols play roles in Swedish organized crime situation. As many organized crime groups in Sweden use same arm dealers, many of the arms are trafficked from the Western Balkans where many criminals also seem to collect guns to traffic to Sweden with high profits. Gothenburg seems to be a famous route for illegal arms entering the country. There are always many reasons to use gun violence among criminal groups and normally the growing illegal arms trade goes hand in hand with a growing drug problem. Also, a famous criminal organization Shottaz has used lethal gun violence in Sweden when there was a fight among their members.  Furthermore, arms and violence are also needed for the other illegal activities, such as controlling certain areas and banning people to walk outside after 6 p.m., that happened for instance in Tensta, Stockholm, or for making road blocks. Moreover, the structures of criminal organizations vary from fluid groups to kinship-based organizations including organized motorcycle gangs in Sweden. Some of the groups also got characters out of crime movies. One notorious remark is that it is possible to belong to two or more criminal organizations in Sweden at the same time.

Even if the punishments were hardened on aggravated weapon crimes in Sweden in 2018, that allowed more raids and arm seizures as well as more intensified surveillance rights to the law enforcement, the organized crime groups started to use even younger people for arm transportation and storage to avoid longer sentences. Young people can be used for many other illegal activities as well. In order to combat the phenomenon, Sweden needs multiple domestic and international cooperation units and projects. An international operation called Rekyl is a successful example; the law enforcement authorities seized many automatic weapons and hand grenades on a way from Slovenia to Sweden in 2014.          

There are similarities and differences in Finland compared with Swedish situation. Like in Sweden, mixing local and foreign citizens is a tool of organized crime to get involved in local businesses, licit and illicit. Criminal organizations cooperate and recruit normally without bureaucracy, warn the organized crime experts Anna Sergi, Marleen Easton and Alexandria Reid at an event, organized by the Royal United Services Institute. That is one of their advantages. A Finnish organized crime group used the same method, there were Finns and foreign citizens involved in the activities, mainly drug distribution, money laundering and intimidation of authorities. Illegal arms were also seized. According to an organized crime expert, Diorella Islas, a new criminal business needs only one contact to start an illegal business in a country, only one respectively. To battle the phenomenon, especially young people should get jobs and places to study, psychological help and immediate treatment to possible addictions. Otherwise, the criminal life style may become a source of extra profits for young people in need or excitement to life without a knowledge of a dark side of their activities.

However, what worries me more, is to think about the violent and fear-based methods used by serious and organized crime groups or mafias to attack countries and societies. Actually, it has been said that mafia is only a method. Extortion, corruption and gun violence are among the illegal methods’ toolkit used by transnational organized crime groups globally. As Sweden witnesses various serious methods, such as the heavy gun violence already, we should be prepared for that in Finland too. Protecting the main actors, such as our law enforcement, judges, lawyers, prosecutors, diplomats and politicians, must be our key priority. However, protecting also the citizens is highly important and a tool to combat such violent activities.  

Money laundering with a legal business is a typical organized crime activity. Also, the organized crime group used a legal car repair shop to launder money from sold cannabis in Finland. All organized crime and mafia experts, such as Federico Varese, speak about the legal and illegal businesses transnational organized crime and mafias may provide and finally control multiple areas and activities in states. Also, organized crime groups have offered loans to businesses in need in Sweden, especially during the Covid-19 pandemic. No organized crime groups should get that far in Finland, the work of our National Bureau of Investigation is super important. However, a strong civil society is also an important tool to battle the phenomenon. The fact is that all costs and resources needed for law enforcement agencies, research and other related activities to battle the phenomenon after transnational organized crime hits the country very hard, are much higher than before it happens.

So, why should we be interested in transnational organized crime research in Finland? With deeper research as well as knowledge sharing, we can see the steps serious criminal groups take in Sweden. The groups may act similarly in Finland. As transnational organized crime is much more than criminal gangs, drugs, guns and various crime types, we should build up a deeper understanding of their strategies and methods globally. Collaboration between various authorities, researchers and civil society is a key tool to battle organized crime.

Siru Törnroos, RIOC Member