HELSINGIN SANOMAT international

Foreign - Tuesday 23.4.2002

Estonia's Obtshak crime organisation a major supplier of Finnish illegal drug market

 Syndicate divides territory and arbitrates in disputes - international criminal cooperation established in prison in 1990s

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By Jukka Harju in Tallinn

The Tallinn criminal organisation known as the "common treasury", or Obtshak is responsible for a good deal of the trade and smuggling of illegal drugs in Finland. Estonia is known to be the source of most of the amphetamine available on the Finnish market.
   
The operation is one example of how international organised crime - in this case, the Eastern Mafia - operates and extends its influence into Finland.
   
Obtshak is the highest level of the Eastern Mafia - an umbrella organisation of a number of different criminal groups. One of the goals of Obtshak is to make money; some of its activities are legitimate.
   
There are just under ten groups in Estonia which belong to Obtshak. Each of them pays part of the ill-gotten gains to a central organisation, which maps out the geographical areas and the fields of operations of the affiliate members. The common treasury also mediates in disputes between member groups, provides financial aid to those in prison and their families, and covers expenses such as lawyers' fees.

The Estonian media has often identified
a certain Russian-born man as the head of Obtshak. Most of the groups are Russian, and many are named after their cities of origin. For instance there is talk of the Novosibirsk and Kemerovov Mafias. More recently, new groups have been named after the bosses of the gangs.
   
Risto Pullat of the Estonian police is specialised in organised crime. He says that some of the groups are of Estonian origin, and they have their own representatives in Obtshak. However, purely Estonian gangs also have an umbrella organisation, known as the Nõukogu, or "council".

The Estonian groups are more international
in their operations than their Russian counterparts. For example, some Estonian criminals who have settled in Spain's Costa del Sol organise the smuggling of cannabis from North Africa to Finland.
   
Few can say how much of the Finnish amphetamine trade is in the hands of the Obtshak, but it is safe to say that the organisation would not just watch this lucrative trade across the Gulf of Finland from the sidelines. It is believed that it also has its hands in the smuggling of alcohol and tobacco into Finland.
   
There is considerable demand in Finland for amphetamine. The drug is manufactured in clandestine laboratories in Estonia. Since the late 1990s Estonian police have shut down such laboratories at the rate of about one each year. The latest was found in a rural house in the Western Estonia about two weeks ago.
   
The term "laboratory" is perhaps somewhat misleading in this respect, as the equipment required for the manufacture of amphetamine is not much more elaborate than a moonshine still.
   
The equipment is quite easy to assemble: the kettles and pipes of the laboratory that was most recently discovered fit into two cardboard boxes. This makes the laboratories easily portable, and more difficult for the police to track down.

According to Pullat
, the current situation on the Finnish amphetamine market emerged in the 1990s after the first Estonian criminals were caught in Finland. While in a Finnish prison they managed to establish contacts with Finnish professional criminals, and the business has flourished ever since.
   
"The criminals are more experienced and more crafty than before", says Martin Ilumets of Estonia's central criminal police.
   
The reason why so much Estonian amphetamine is smuggled across the Gulf of Finland from Estonia to Finland is simple: the same drug brings in at least three times as much money in Finland as it does in Estonia.

Helsingin Sanomat / First published in print 21.4.2002

More on this subject:
 Estonia's Obtshak crime organisation a major supplier of Finnish illegal drug market
 Vegetable delivery leads to prison ordeal for Finnish truck driver
 Knockers - Tallinn speed dealers' worst nightmare


JUKKA HARJU / Helsingin Sanomat
jukka.harju@sanoma.fi

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