September 25, 2018 / 3:48 PM / a month ago

Finland holds Russian, Estonian in money laundering probe

HELSINKI (Reuters) - A Finnish court on Tuesday remanded in custody a Russian and an Estonian detained on suspicion of aggravated money laundering following a police raid described by officials as exceptionally large.

The two were held over the weekend, when about 400 police and other officials searched 17 locations and found more than 500,000 euros ($588,400) in cash on the suspects’ premises on islands in southwest Finland, officials said.

The West Finland District Court said in a statement that the Russian man, 36, was suspected of aggravated money laundering and aggravated tax fraud while the Estonian, 51, was suspected of aggravated money laundering and abetting aggravated tax fraud in the Parainen municipality between 2014 and 2018.

The investigation is related to suspected financial fraud worth several million euros, according to the officials.

Several media reports have said the case was linked to the purchase of islands and properties worth millions of euros in the Turku archipelago near strategic military locations.

The lawyer of the Russian said in response to the court actions and the media reports that his client was innocent.

“My client strictly denies committing any criminal conduct and these suspicions. He had had a very minor role in this matter and all his activities have been fully legal,” the Russian man’s lawyer Tuomas Sunnari told Finnish TV channel MTV.

“News of the past few days have understandably raised citizens’ concerns over which kind of groups can purchase and own properties in Finland,” Defence Minister Jussi Niinisto said in a statement on Monday.

Commenting on the raid, Finnish president Sauli Niinisto told reporters late on Monday: “This was an exceptionally extensive operation.... which gives a signal that in Finland we take this kind of investigation seriously.”

Finland shares a 833-mile (1,340 km) border and a difficult history with Russia. It has lately developed closer ties with NATO but stopped short of full membership in line with a tradition of avoiding confrontation with its eastern neighbor.

Reporting by Anne Kauranen, editing by Jussi Rosendahl, Editing by William Maclean

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