Sa, 28.01.2023
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Estonian criminals crossing borders

Joosep Värk
Estonian criminals crossing borders
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Photo: PPA

Even though Estonia is not internationally infamous for its criminals, nor do criminals from other countries like to come to Estonia, statistics shows the number of criminals whose apprehension requires international cooperation is on the rise.

The arrest of Estonian drug dealer Jevgeni Medunitsa in Spain earlier this year got a lot of public attention. Videos of Spanish authorities wrestling Medunitsa to the ground were aired by all Estonian publications.

While the arrest was nothing out of the ordinary, Estonian criminals abroad are rarely apprehended in the course of such grand operations. Medunitsa and his accomplices are suspected of transporting large quantities of illegal drugs from Spain to Russia – through several European countries, including Estonia.

A more violent story of foreign authorities catching Estonian criminals concerns the arrest of brothers Benjamin and Filip-Artur Hiienurme on suspicions of brutally murdering a taxi driver by Lithuanian officers. If the arrest of Medunitsa was the result of prolonged efforts by the Estonian police, the catching of brothers Hiienurme constituted rapid reaction to a gruesome crime.

Some criminals have tried to go underground in Estonia. A man the Swedish police suspect of severe offense against a person was recently apprehended in Lääne County. The number of cases requiring international cooperation is growing.

Estonia joining the Schengen visa-free area in 2007 has, in addition to diplomatic and business relations, led to the diversification of cross-border crime. As confirmed by statistics: if in 2010 Estonia delivered and received 79 persons, the figure had risen to 95 by 2012 and 111 by 2014. The balance of persons received and sent has been fairly even.

Head of the information analysis bureau of the Police and Border Guard Board (PPA) Ivo Kolk said that people should keep in mind that statistics can be influenced by the discovery of major crimes in which several persons belonging to the same criminal group are arrested in the same country. «Cooperation has always been closest with Finland. This is to say, unfortunately, that Estonian residents go there to commit crimes,» Kolk said. He added that since there is a sizable Estonian community in Finland, most cases concern petty crimes like theft and traffic offenses.

As proved by the Medunitsa case, Estonia will also have to keep an eye on Spain as Marbella has become the second home of a lot of Estonian criminals. «They are of course no big players in Europe or the world. Talking about quantities of narcotic substances, the problems in Estonia and Spain cannot be compared,» Kolk said. At any given time the police are searching for 30-40 people whose country of location is known.

People extradited from Estonia are often Estonian citizens who have committed crimes abroad. For example in 2005-2007 Estonian citizens robbed jewelry stores in Italy, Great Britain, Finland, Spain, and France. Kolk said that while the crime spree has ended, individual cases are still reported.

Foreigners hiding in Estonia have also been found. This year a Latvian citizen wanted for attempted murder was apprehended in Tallinn's passenger port and handed over to Latvia. Similarly a Finn suspected of sex crimes was hiding in Estonia. There are also international cases: an Egyptian citizen delivered to the Czech Republic on suspicions of selling counterfeit traveler’s checks.

Kolk said Estonia is not an attractive place for criminals to pursue activities or hide in. «The country is small; it is difficult to remain inconspicuous and the chances of being caught by the police are rather high,» Kolk explained. He added that poor climate is probably another reason why criminals prefer to hide out in Italy or Spain.