Money Crimes -podcast’s text version 1/3

This podcast episode is a compilation of several real-life cases that have been merged into one fictional story. The episode is based on background materials, from which the original sources, cases and references to personal information have been changed to protect the privacy of real people. This episode focuses on the dangers behind easy money – does “easy money”, in fact, even exist? How can the life of an ordinary young person be turned upside down by one exciting and harmless sounding but ill-advised favor to a friend when the stars are not aligned? In this episode, you will hear a story about how almost anyone can become involved in a crime unintentionally. What is the worst possible outcome when trying to help a person out of the goodness of your heart? This is the “Money crimes” podcast. 

It is a typical Tuesday for Niina, a first-year upper secondary school student. During her classes, she focused on the teaching with varying success, and she spent the breaks together with her friends browsing TikTok videos and talking about what had happened the previous weekend. In the afternoon, in the middle of a lesson, Niina’s phone vibrated to signal a new text message. The text was from her boyfriend, Eero. Eero had just turned eighteen, and the young couple had been dating for about a year at the time, although they had known each other since childhood. Their parents were good friends with each other, and the families had previously gone on skiing holidays to the north and sunny trips to the south together. However, the feelings between the two had blossomed only later. Despite the two-year age difference, the couple’s parents had also given their blessing to the relationship because they knew that they both were smart, polite and responsible for their age. 

Eero’s text made Niina buzz with excitement. The text message read: 

Do you want to go with me to Helsinki on Friday? 

Niina and Eero lived in Kemi, about 700 kilometers from Helsinki, and trips to the capital were few and far between. The idea that she could get away from the “backwater village” that Niina called her hometown was tempting, and Niina did not hesitate when she typed the answer to her boyfriend: 

Absolutely! But why Helsinki? 

Eero suggested that he would pick up Niina at the end of her school day and fill in the details then.  

Eero had been born and raised in Helsinki, but when Eero’s father had received a great job offer from Kemi five years earlier, the whole family had decided to move. As one might expect, the then-13-year-old Eero had not liked the idea at first, as all his friends and hobbies were in Helsinki. Back then, he felt that his parents had just snatched him away from everything that was familiar to him and forced him to start a new life in the middle of nowhere without considering his feelings at all. Eero had also made his feelings clear to his parents, who had tried to appease him with game consoles and other gifts. In the end, Eero just had to accept the fact that Kemi would become his new home. However, Eero had stayed in touch with his closest friends in the Helsinki metropolitan area, and he was constantly communicating with them through various apps. One day, one of his friends had made a proposal to Eero: could Eero, who lived close to the Swedish border, pick up a bunch of snus from some people and transport it to him in Helsinki? The friend promised to pay Eero 500 euros for his troubles. 

It’s no big deal. People transport snus all the time, and no one is interested in looking into it. At least not when you visit the border just once – they have much better things to do than bother with small stuff like this,” the friend assured Eero. 

Eero was well aware of what took place at the Tornio-Haaparanta border between Finland and Sweden. He himself knew people who regularly visited Sweden to buy snus and then sold it to their own friends. Even though Eero had never used snus and had only tried smoking once, something in the proposal fascinated him. Eero had always been the image of a good boy who lived by the rules and obeyed his parents, and he was fully aware that the proposed smuggling trip was not legal. Eero also agreed with his friend that he, a good boy from a decent family who was to visit Sweden only once, would not get caught. Eero reasoned that the trip only provided him with a little extra excitement in his otherwise boring everyday life. Eero, who had just received his driving license, was also excited about the opportunity to go on a road trip all the way to Helsinki. “Why not?” he thought and agreed to his friend’s proposal. 

Eero also told Niina this same story after picking her up from school on Tuesday. Niina announced that she was coming along, and Eero was more than grateful for the company since the drive from Kemi to Helsinki would take eight hours even without stops. Eero suggested that Niina skip school on Friday so that they could leave early in the morning. Niina knew that her parents would be angry once they found out that she had skipped school, but when else would she be able to visit Helsinki – and with Eero, of all people? Niina was fully sold when Eero promised that he would buy her something nice with the 500 euros, and so the two started planning their Friday trip. 

The plan was as follows: 

First, they had to drive to Tornio to pick up the snus, and from there they would continue to Helsinki before heading back to Kemi. No matter how fast they drove, the trip would still take almost 24 hours. The two had to make sure that their parents would not keep calling them, demanding that they come home. Both Niina and Eero informed their parents in advance that they would go straight from school to their friends for a sleepover on Friday and would therefore not come home until Saturday morning. In addition, Eero had asked to borrow his friend’s car because he could not use either of his parents’ cars – one of them would surely notice that an extra 1,500 kilometers had suddenly appeared on the car’s odometer. Eero and Niina’s plan was to leave early on Friday morning, drive to Tornio to pick up the snus, transport it to the agreed meeting point in Helsinki, and then drive back to Kemi. The two calculated that they would have enough time to make a few stops on the way and still be back by Saturday morning. The plan sounded great to them, but everything did not go as planned. 

It was eight o’clock in the morning when Eero drove his borrowed car to Niina’s house and picked her up. In a text message from his friend, Eero had received the address of a detached house in Tornio with further instructions regarding the snus pick-up. On arrival, there were three grown men waiting outside for Eero, who had never seen them before. The men opened the warehouse door and began to carry cardboard boxes full of snus to the boot of Eero’s car. There were so many boxes that Eero could no longer keep count. The men were unable to fit all the boxes in the boot, so the rest were loaded into the back seat. When the operation was completed, Eero started the car, backed out of the yard, and started the long drive towards Helsinki.  

Eero and Niina had only been driving for less than an hour and had barely even passed Kemi when Eero noticed a police car approaching from a distance while waiting at an intersection. Eero immediately broke into a cold sweat. An encounter with the police was the last thing he wanted at that moment, and he thought it best to wait at the intersection for a little longer so that the police car would pass them before they continued their journey. However, Eero was out of luck. What he did not know was that the guy he had borrowed the car from had forgotten to pay the statutory vehicle tax, meaning that the car was not roadworthy. It was a quiet morning, and the police officers had looked up the registration data of the car and noticed the unpaid tax, which is why they decided to pull Eero over. The police parked their car on the side of the road, and one of the police officers walked up to the driver’s window and asked Eero to roll it down. Eero, who tried with all his strength to hide his nervousness, did as he was told. The police were immediately hit with a strong smell of snus. A quick glance at the back seat of the car was all it took. 

Turn off the car’s engine, step out of the car and open the boot, please,” the police instructed Eero, who obeyed with trembling hands. 

The police tore open one of the cardboard boxes, revealing 27 rolls of strong, Odens-branded snus inside. There were 23 additional cardboard boxes in the boot and the back seat with the same exact contents. In total, Eero and Niina had 621 rolls, or 99.36 kilograms, of snus on board. The police had no choice but to confiscate the snus and arrest both Eero and Niina on suspicion of smuggling and tax fraud. The couple’s biggest fear of their parents finding out also came true, because the police had an obligation to contact Niina’s guardians as she was still a minor at the time. Eero and Niina glanced at each other as if asking: 

How on earth did we end up here? 

The preliminary investigation of the case was transferred from the police to the Finnish Customs. Both apprehended were quiet during the interrogations. Eero refused to tell the authorities who the person from whom he had received the assignment was, as he did not want to cause any problems for his long-term friend. He said that he did not know the men who had loaded the snus in the car and claimed that he had no idea who the snus was supposed to be handed over to in Helsinki. Eero claimed that he had only agreed on a meeting place and a specific time for handing over the goods and picking up his payment. Niina, on the other hand, claimed that she had not known anything about the snus – she had only promised to accompany her boyfriend, nothing more. When the authorities asked Niina what she had thought the cardboard boxes to contain, she refused to answer. The authorities had no doubt that Niina knew what the trip was really about. 

It is legal to acquire snus for personal use, but the maximum amount at the time of the event was 1,000 grammes per calendar day. In addition, snus had to be imported to the country by the person themselves. For example, it is illegal to gift snus to a friend as a souvenir. In Eero and Niina’s case, the amount of snus found in the car was so large that it could not have been intended only for personal use. The snus had clearly been imported for commercial purposes, resulting in tax liability. The customs authorities considered it highly unlikely that any taxes had been paid on the snus, which is why they decided to inform the Tax Administration. Snus is a product subject to excise duty. Excise duty is mainly levied on goods that have an impact on either the environment or public health, and the taxation is thus also aimed at curbing the problems caused by such goods. For snus, a tobacco tax is applied, which means that importers must pay tax on all tobacco products received from abroad. The tax becomes chargeable when the products are brought to Finland or when they are released for consumption in accordance with Finnish law. Tax liability can arise in many different ways. For example, a person who is in possession of snus or other tobacco products for which excise duties have not been paid in Finland may be liable for taxes. In this case, no excise duty had been paid, and no tax declaration of any kind had been submitted to the Tax Administration. The Tax Administration had to determine the amount of tobacco tax avoided regarding the snus, which would now have to be paid by the couple. 

The Tax Administration has established an average retail price for snus, which it uses to determine the amount of tax avoided. Unfortunately for the couple, the retail price set for snus in Finland is significantly higher than in the country of origin, Sweden, which means that the amount of tax is also often quite high. The amount of tax to be paid is not affected in any way by the taxpayer’s income level or wealth. The Tax Administration ordered Eero and Niina to pay tobacco tax jointly and severally, which meant that the Tax Administration considered both equally responsible for the possession and transport of snus and, therefore, making both liable for paying tobacco tax. According to the principle of joint and several liability, the Tax Administration can collect the tobacco tax in its entirety from either party. If the debt collected from one party exceeds their share, the party has the right to collect the difference from the other liable party with interest on arrears. This already seemed unfair, especially to Niina, and the feeling only grew stronger when the couple heard the amount of tobacco tax imposed on them. The Tax Administration found that in this case, the amount of tobacco tax avoided was a whopping 41,700 euros. The sum was calculated as follows: 

Eero and Niina had had a total of 99,360 grammes of snus in their possession. At the time of the event, the average retail price of snus, as determined by the Tax Administration, was 0.7 euros per gramme, which means that the retail price of the entire amount was 69,552 euros. The amount of tobacco tax is 60% of this retail price, which brings the sum to a little over 41,700 euros. In addition, Eero and Niina’s case progressed all the way to criminal proceedings, but already at this stage, it was clear that no matter what happened in court, the couple was facing a substantial tax debt. 

Eero and Niina were shocked by the Tax Administration’s decision. Eero believed that the amount of tobacco tax imposed was far too high, as the original price of snus in Sweden was significantly lower, and the tax imposed was not at all in line with this price. Eero also did not understand how he could be obligated to declare or pay any taxes on the snus since it was not his property. After all, he had only acted as an intermediary and had no way of knowing whether or not declaration had been made for the snus or if any taxes had been paid. One of the grounds for the Tax Administration’s decision was that the snus was clearly intended for commercial purposes due to its large volume, but Eero also denied this. He insisted that he could not have known the intended purpose of the snus with the information he had originally been provided. Niina was even more upset about the Tax Administration’s decision. She emphasized that she had not been involved in any way. Niina maintained that she was an innocent bystander who had just accompanied her boyfriend, so how could she possibly be held responsible for paying tens of thousands of euros in taxes? What had she even done? 

During the interrogations, Eero and Niina also brought up that the sale of nicotine products among young people was commonplace. They knew that their school had so-called “vape dealers”, or young people who ordered e-cigarettes from abroad and then resold them to their friends at school at a manifold price. For Eero and Niina, selling products like e-cigarettes and nicotine pouches was so common that they saw nothing wrong with it. How was snus any different? The couple felt that their punishment was unfair when similar activities were common among children and young people. The authorities were naturally interested in what Eero and Niina had to say about the matter, as all the products mentioned by the two were equally subject to tobacco tax, and their sale and possession could result in similar tax payments. Eero and Niina had thought that talking about the prevalence of such activities would help their case, but they only succeeded in showing that they and other young people selling tobacco products did not understand how serious the matter really was. For example, importing snus and e-cigarettes for personal use within the allowed limits is legal, but selling them is a criminal activity. According to Eero and Niina, this was clearly not common knowledge, and getting involved without giving the matter much thought was easy. 

As previously noted, Eero and Niina’s case progressed all the way to criminal proceedings. In situations like their case, charges may be pressed for aggravated tax fraud, smuggling or engaging in illegal importation of goods. The criteria for aggravated tax fraud are the pursuit of significant economic benefits as well as specific planning, and the punishment for this is imprisonment for a minimum of four months and a maximum of four years. An individual charged for smuggling is considered to have either imported or exported restricted goods without the required permission of the authorities. An individual who is found guilty may be sentenced to a fine or imprisonment for a maximum of two years. Engaging in illegal importation of goods, on the other hand, means concealing, acquiring, or supplying products imported in a criminal manner. The punishment ranges from a fine to a maximum of one and a half years’ imprisonment. As is often the case in these types of situations, Eero and Niina had to wait for the court’s decision for a long time. The couple anxiously waited for the verdict, which was finally delivered a few years later. Eero was eventually convicted of engaging in illegal importation of goods and Niina of engaging in illegal importation of goods as a minor, as the court concluded that both parties knew that the snus they were transporting had not been legally imported to Finland. The court considered that the couple had not participated in organizing the illegal import of snus, which is why the sentences imposed on them were quite lenient: Eero was sentenced to 70 days of conditional imprisonment, and Niina was sentenced to a 30-day fine. 

Eero and Niina were in disbelief of the sentences they received. At the time, their actions had not seemed like a big deal: transport some snus from point A to point B. After all, that’s what many people do every day! The couple had no idea that they could get into such huge trouble for such a small favor. A tax debt of more than 40,000 euros before either of them had even completed their matriculation examination was unthinkable. They could not help but wonder how they would manage to pay the debt or how the sentences they received would affect their employment later in life. The future suddenly looked a lot less rosy – and all because of one poor decision. 

The fact is that nearly 15 million snus cans are imported from Sweden to Finland for personal use annually, but in addition the Customs has estimated that Finnish snus smugglers make a profit of approximately 50–70 million euros every year. Naturally, this is also lost tax revenue, as snus cans are invariably sold under the counter. The so-called “snus rally” and the number of confiscations made by the Customs plummeted after the sale of nicotine pouches was made legal in Finland in the spring of 2023. However, the government decided to include nicotine pouches in tobacco taxation from the beginning of 2024, which means that the prices will rise significantly. This may well lead to nicotine pouches becoming a popular import product along with snus on the Finnish-Swedish border. It is good to remember that as a product subject to tobacco tax, the import of nicotine pouches can also lead to significant tax debt. 

If a deal sounds too good to be true, it should be a red flag, as the concept of “easy money” does not exist. Never accept illegally imported tobacco products for re-distribution, and do not order or acquire them yourself from abroad for commercial purposes. The mere possession of excise goods can make you liable to tax, and in the worst-case scenario, the consequences of tax debt will overshadow the rest of your life.  

You can check the current restrictions on the import of tobacco products for personal use at If you detect illegal trade in tobacco products, you can tip off the authorities anonymously. You can find the report form on the Tax Administration’s website,, with the keywords “Reporting suspected tax evasion”.