A tiny Finnish company supplied prohibited technology to Russia – they tried to fool the authorities with the help of record presses

A tiny Finnish company supplied prohibited technology to Russia

A modest office space is located at street level in Kurkimäki, Helsinki. On November 2, 2020, the Central Criminal Police searched the house there.

KRP sent the information it received from the home search to the Swedish security police Säpo. It was investigating a Russian-Swedish man living in Stockholm. Säpo believed that the man had been supplying prohibited technology to Russia for years.

Russia and especially its military machinery needs components and other technology from the West.

This week, the police investigation became public, when a Russian-Swedish man was charged with, among other things, illegal intelligence activities. According to the police’s suspicion, the man’s client was the Russian military intelligence GRU.

The traces of the espionage network also lead to Finland. Based on the preliminary investigation material obtained by ‘s MOT department and other reports, it can be said that Finland even played a key role in the operation.

Products were often not delivered from Sweden directly to Russia, but to Aelcomp Oy, a Finnish wholesaler of electrical supplies. The police searched its office in Kurkimäki. The Finnish police had originally started investigating the company due to suspected financial crimes.

Based on the photos taken by the police, the office was a bit messy during the house search. There was a worn leather sofa, a men’s bicycle, an office desk full of papers and several boxes on the floor. There was a car tire on the wrong side of the door.

In the boxes, the police also found plate weights familiar from gyms. It later turned out that they were not purchased for fitness but to mislead the authorities.

Nonexistent employees?

The MOT delivery visited the door of Aelcomp’s office on Friday, but did not reach anyone there. Through the glass door, you could see bills and free leaflets on the hall floor. The premises of the office itself were tightly covered with curtains. The atmosphere in the Helsinki suburb was calm or downright sleepy.

Aelcomp was founded in 2016. At that time it was owned by two Russian men. One of them is involved in a criminal case handled in the United States.

In 2017, three Russian men were sentenced for exporting banned technology to Russia via Finland. The founder of Aelcomp organized transport from Moscow. However, he was not charged or convicted in the United States.

Another, now 49-year-old Russian man served for a long time as Aelcomp’s figurehead and chairman of the board.

The MOT does not publish the man’s name, because he seems to have mainly carried out the orders of others.

The Central Criminal Police arrested the man in November 2020. During the interrogations, the man said that he moved to Finland at the age of 18 and that he studied Finnish at the time. However, the interrogation was conducted in Russian and with the help of an interpreter, and it is not clear from the preliminary investigation material how well he knows Finnish. According to the trade register, the man only has Russian citizenship.

The man said that he worked in Finland in the construction industry, in a cafe, that he had founded his own barbecue kiosk and that he had studied to become a hybrid vehicle driver. He said that he had also worked in small companies, where he was organized by Russian and Estonian acquaintances.

He was asked to join the electrical equipment company that was the subject of the investigation, apparently because the company needed a person living in Finland.

The police came to the man’s interrogations clearly well prepared. The police had Aelcomp’s e-mails, the Russian man’s WhatsApp and text messages and other material in their possession.

Some of the police’s questions were related to special features observed in Aelcomp’s business.

According to Aelcomp’s systems, the company had twenty employees. Its e-mail system had usernames created for twenty people, such as “Evan Kane”, “Alaina Cole” and “Bon Conrad”.

“At least three of these [nimistä] are familiar, because Aelcomp has received orders with these names. However, I have not placed orders in their name, and I do not know the people personally,” the man answered the police.

The answer did not satisfy the police. How could a man who owned and ran half of the company not know his own employees? During the interrogations, the police brought up their own conclusion: the persons do not actually exist.

The police had a theory: the persons had been created so that the Russian man could send orders in their name when buying technology products. They would still be delivered to Russia.

A winter meeting with the “FSB man” in St. Petersburg

At first glance, Aelcomp seems like a pretty ordinary company. There are many small companies in Finland that are focused on Eastern trade. According to public customs data, Aelcomp has delivered hundreds of product batches to Russia in recent years.

Some of these products originate from the company of a Russian-Swedish man who was charged in Sweden. Among them were, for example, devices suitable for the analysis of message traffic and research signals, as well as frequency synthesizers. The products can be used for military purposes.

During the interrogations, the Russian man recalled that there were often “all kinds of electronic components” in the broadcasts.

According to the man, the export arrangements were agreed upon in the winter of 2017 in a St. Petersburg hotel. There he met the “FSB man”. This is how Aelcomp’s manager described the meeting:

“We met in the lobby of the hotel and this person said that he would organize big deals for 2017. I should not have worried because everything was completely legal and no one would be misled. He also showed me a document with the FSB boss [Venäjän turvallisuuspalvelu] name.”

Later in the interrogation, the man elaborated that the man he met in the St. Petersburg hotel “showed me his own FSB card. It had both handwritten and printed text and a stamp.”

So the man told the Finnish police that an employee of the Russian security service FSB had initiated the export activity. It is practically impossible to verify the content of the conversation or even whether such a meeting ever took place.

The director of Aelcomp says that he met the “FSB man” for the second time as well. It happened at Moscow airport in 2020.

According to the director of Aelcomp, he was “required for a meeting”.

“The tickets for the trip to Moscow were sent to me. I was warned that if I didn’t do as I was told, they would have information on all my relatives. If they are dear to me, then it would be best for me to obey,” the man said during the interrogation.

The real manager of the company in Moscow

Based on the preliminary investigation material, it is likely that the operations of the Finnish company Aelcomp were actually managed from Moscow.

The theory is supported, among other things, by WhatsApp messages and e-mails found on the phone of Aelcomp’s director. Based on them, a Russian living in Moscow Timofei Telegin instructed how a Finnish company should operate. The tone of the messages was often commanding.

According to the director of Aelcomp, Telegin also participated in a meeting at the Moscow airport in 2020, which was attended by an alleged employee of the FSB.

During the police interrogation, the director of Aelcomp admitted that Telegin’s role was significant.

“If you don’t take into account the man from the FSB that I told you about before, Telegin is the most important decision-maker in the company [Aelcomp]”, the man told the police. Later in the interrogation, he described himself as “just a dummy” in the company.

Telegin does not seem to have ever lived in Finland or to have officially engaged in business activities here. It is also not clear from the preliminary investigation material what his relationship with the Russian intelligence services might be.

But Telegin is also a person known to the US authorities.

In September 2022, criminal charges were brought against Telegin and six other people in the United States. According to the indictment, Telegin was part of a criminal group that supplied Russia with technology subject to an export ban. The same group also sold embargoed Venezuelan oil to China.

The indictment states that Telegin owns a company in Russia that supplies electronics directly to the Russian army. The preliminary investigation carried out by the Central Criminal Police reveals that the Finnish company Aelcomp also had a contract with the same Telegin company.

The legal process in the United States is ongoing, and Telegin has not been sentenced. The prosecutor demands up to 30 years in prison for the suspects.

Telegin has also been on the US sanctions list since 2018.

The preliminary investigation also contains descriptions that could come from a bad spy novel.

In the preliminary investigation carried out by the police, record presses bought from a sports store at a box store were found at Aelcomp’s premises. The matter seems to have puzzled the police: for what purpose has such a large number of weights been acquired?

When the police asked the manager of Aelcomp about it, he first claimed that the weights were for his personal use.

However, another explanation was found in the messages between the director of Aelcomp and the Russian Timofei Telegin to the record presses.

The weights were meant to fool customs. For example, microchips were sent to Russia, but something else, such as an engine, was recorded as a product description. In order for the weight to correspond to the contents of the mailing list, plate weights purchased from a sports store were added.

Aelcomp’s manager was concerned that sending such “special packages” would be illegal and could result in large fines. He wanted to receive a compensation of 500 euros for sending “special packages”. According to the messages, Telegin agreed to compensation of 300 euros.

An Aelcomp executive was also concerned that he would attract too much attention by buying a large number of weights repeatedly. That’s why he suggested that weights should be bought from several different stores. Based on the receipts found in the company’s accounting, at least 56 record presses were purchased.

The director of Aelcomp said that he went to throw some of the weights in the underground garbage near his office, or Molok, because they were of no use. The Central Criminal Police also went to film this garbage.

Compulsory forwarding company involved in operations

Based on the interrogations, the work of Aelcomp’s Russian director seems to have often been mundane drudgery.

The basic work was simple. When the product packages ordered from abroad arrived, he photographed their contents, weighed the packages and sent the photos and the packaging information to Russia. From there, he received instructions on where to deliver the packages. Broadcasts were made approximately once a week.

The Finnish forwarding company Optima Freight Oy was mostly responsible for sending the packages. The forwarding company, for example, deals with customs and organizes export-related documents.

The police are wondering one thing: who paid Optima Freight? According to the police, Aelcomp did not make any payments to the forwarding company between 2017 and 2019.

The United States placed the Finnish director of Optima Freigt and four Finnish companies connected to him on the sanctions list in 2020. The United States justified the decision by saying that the Finnish man would have helped Russia evade sanctions.

It is possible that the reason for the sanctions decision is related to this case. According to the preliminary investigation, the Swedish authorities have received official assistance and a large number of documents from the United States. They highlight Optima Freight’s operations in exporting high-tech products to Russia.

The Russian man leaves the country

It appears from the preliminary investigation material received from Sweden that the Central Criminal Police investigated suspected economic crimes related to the Russian director of Aelcomp at the same time. Aelcomp had also been subject to a tax audit. At the end of August 2023, Aelcomp had unpaid taxes of more than 120,000 euros.

From the messages obtained by the police, it appeared that the man had a bank account in Finland as well as in the Russian Sberbank. Based on the messages, an “unofficial salary” was paid there.

On Friday, the Central Criminal Police issued a statement regarding the case. It confirms that the police have investigated economic crimes and the export of technology to Russia. The case has progressed to prosecution, and five people are suspected of crimes. The police will not comment on the names of the suspects.

According to the preliminary investigation material, the director of Aelcomp left Finland for Russia in the morning of July 22, 2022 through the Vaalimaa border crossing. His current whereabouts are unclear.

MOT delivery could not reach any person mentioned in the story for comment.