Finnish Berry picking boss sentenced to prison for human trafficking of Thai workers

A photograph taken by police during the initial investigation showed some of the conditions the victims were forced to live in. Image: Sisä-Suomen poliisilaitos

Finland’s Supreme Court has sentenced the head of a Central Finland berry-picking company to one year and 10 months in prison on 26 human trafficking charges involving Thai berry-pickers, according to media reports. SH writing.

The pickers traveled to Finland from Thailand to pick wild berries and mushrooms for about three months in 2016. The defendant accommodated the pickers in the town of Hankasalmi in central Finland in premises where inspections security had revealed security deficiencies. The shipping containers and trailers where the workers lived were in such condition that they could be harmful to health.

While in Finland, Thai berry pickers were forced to work 15-hour days for little or no pay, as their earnings were used to pay off debts incurred while traveling to Finland. The pickers had to hand over their passports and plane tickets to the staff and were not well enough guided in carrying out their tasks and therefore did not pick enough berries, which led to lower wages.

“This resulted in the workers having almost no money to meet their basic needs while in Finland. Berry pickers worked long shifts with virtually no vacation opportunities,” the court ruling reads.

HS questioned pickers in Thailand about their situation before they are due to return to Finland for trial.

Commenting on the situation at the time, a berry picker named Somthawin Misuk said, “My hopes were dashed. There was a lot of debt and my mood was unstable.

The case has been going on for three years and the defendant was first sentenced by the district court in 2018 to a 20-month suspended prison sentence for trafficking 26 people from Thailand, as well as charges of fraud and violation of waste management laws. The defendant was also ordered to pay his victims a total of more than 200,000 euros in lost earnings and other compensation.

However, the probation sentences were in 2020 reduced by four months by the Vaasa Court of Appeal as it considered the case as a single act of trafficking and not as 26 individual cases.

But now the Supreme Court has reversed that decision and charged the defendant with 26 separate offenses in the case because the defendant violated the individual liberty, self-determination and personal security of each of the berry pickers.

The court also upheld the convictions for fraud and violation of waste management laws. Due to the seriousness of the crime, the court imposed a prison sentence on the accused despite it being a first offence.

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