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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Flap Over Sex and Diplomats in Helsinki

A sex scandal is rocking the Russian diplomatic corps in Finland after Finnish police arrested several Russian prostitutes and a Russian woman suspected of running brothels out of Helsinki apartments owned by the Russian government's local trade representation.

The prostitutes were arrested on Oct. 14 after Finnish police raided three central Helsinki apartments owned by the Russian trade representation, Helsinki's Helsingin Sanomat reported.

Police believe the ring may involve as many as 200 Russian women, many with expertly forged documents who allegedly courted clients in local restaurants, and the brothels may have been operating for more than two years, the newspaper said.

The Helsinki District Court ordered the arrest of the 41-year-old Russian woman accused of running the brothels on Oct. 18, the newspaper said. No Russian diplomats or embassy staff are suspected of involvement in the prostitution ring.

It was unclear when the woman was arrested or whether she was still in custody, and calls to chief inspector Kari Tolvanen, who is handling the investigation for the Helsinki police, went unanswered Tuesday.

Helsingin Sanomat reported that the case will be handed over to prosecutors, who will decided whether to press charges.

A Finnish diplomatic source in Moscow said Tuesday that the Finnish Interior Ministry has received a written complaint from the Russian Foreign Ministry that Russian authorities were not warned before the apartments were raided and that because they are diplomatic apartments, they should not be subject to police searches.

The source said, however, that because no one with diplomatic immunity was living in the three apartments, they were not off-limits to Finnish authorities.

The trade representation owns "many" apartments in the Finnish capital and they are usually used to house members of the diplomatic corps, Andrei Kuzmin, deputy head of the trade representation, said by telephone from Helsinki.

But when the apartments are empty, they are rented out exclusively to Russian citizens, he said.

"We pay to keep those apartments, so we have to cover those costs by renting them out to Russian citizens permanently or temporarily in Finland," Kuzmin said.

He said background checks on potential tenants consist primarily of establishing their legal status in Finland and that the trade representation had no reason to suspect that the 41-year-old Russian woman may have been running a brothel.

"If the Finnish government gives them a legal basis for being in the country, then that is enough for us," Kuzmin said. "We're not their employers, so we're not going to do an extensive background check.

"And the woman who was arrested had permanent resident status. Apparently Finnish authorities were just fine with having her in their country."

Valery Shlyamin, head of the Russian trade representation in Finland, was on vacation and could not be reached Tuesday, a secretary at the Helsinki office said. But he told Gazeta.ru on Monday that his department was in no way connected to any wrongdoing.

"These citizens will themselves be legally responsible for any illegal activity," Shlyamin said.

He also expressed dismay that neither Finnish police nor the Finnish Foreign Ministry had given Russian authorities a heads-up about the investigation.

"We first found out about the circumstances surrounding the investigation from the Finnish media, not Finnish authorities," he said.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Vladimir Tyurkin declined to comment on the investigation Tuesday and directed all inquiries to a statement on the ministry's web site.

The statement said simply: "Moscow has expressed concerned about information from Finnish authorities regarding the incident with trade representation's apartments in Helsinki. As far as we know, at the moment an investigation is under way regarding all circumstances connected with this issue."