A FORCE of 400 heavily armed tactical police have stormed 17 properties on Finland’s western borders — many owned by mysterious Russian businessman Pavel Melnikov.
The raids, which took place in September, included an assault on the tiny island of Sakkiluoto. The island held nine piers, a helipad, a camouflage-draped swimming pool, swarms of satellite dishes — and barracks-like housing.
Officially, Finland’s KRP federal police are investigating a Russian real estate company for money laundering.
But many in Finland don’t believe these properties match their descriptions as luxury getaways or investment properties. And Finnish authorities have been unusually quiet about it all. This is seen as odd, given the crowing over similar corporate criminal cases in the past.
7pm local time at #airistonhelmi HQ. ‘Money laundering and tax fraud investigation’ in full protective gear. Note, the raid happened already after dawn.
Detail zoom of a pic by Kalle Koponen /HS.fi , prev tweet has link for the full article with some more pics. pic.twitter.com/umd9nnxzkz— Aki Heikkinen (@akihheikkinen)
Local media is speculating that the Russian firm was, in fact, buying up land to establish covert outposts for Moscow’s spies and special forces.
The involvement of the Finnish Defence Forces in the raids has added to this speculation. Surveillance planes and helicopters enforced a no-fly-zone over the Turku Archipelago as 100 armed agents swarmed the island in small boats. Another 300 were spread between the 16 remaining properties.
All reportedly had to contend with surveillance cameras and motion-detector alarms, despite their remote locations.
Pavel Melnikov owned the 17 raided sites mostly through his Finnish-based company Airiston Helmi. But Airiston, despite having invested millions since 2007, has never reported a profit.
“There are no commercial grounds for acquiring the land, but the roads are strategically important and their military significance is considerable,” member of Finland’s parliament Tom Packalen wrote for the newspaper Uusi Soumi.
“If Airiston Helmi is a truly commercial company, it’s run by really bad business people or it’s money laundering, which led police to lead a massive operation on the site.”
— Aki Heikkinen (@akihheikkinen)
Melnikov was not among just two men arrested during the raids. One is a Russian, and the other an Estonian of Russian heritage. Neither has been named.
Seven people had been held for questioning.
Melnikov himself remains out of reach. He claims Russian, Latvian and Maltese citizenship.
Finnish police say they seized $5 million in cash. Computers and flash drives containing some 100 terabytes of data was also reportedly confiscated.
It’s not the first time Finnish media has raised fears of a potential Russian “hybrid warfare” campaign through strategic land purchases. Finland, which borders Russia to the East and Norway to the west, relies heavily on its western ports and Baltic Sea shipping lanes. There are also two major oil refineries in the area.
In 2018, Russian special forces staged an unannounced mock invasion of Gogland Island, close to the Finnish Coast.
The island is owneed by Russia and the raid involved the airborne insertion of special forces troops which ”attacked” a simulated facility before helicoptering out.
It was widely seen as a “signal” to warn against Finland’s improving relations with the West.