Number of suspects in Finnish dogfighting case rises to ten

Friday, August 31, 2007

Finland's National Bureau of Investigation, a division of Finland's national police, has ten suspects currently, in its recent investigation into alleged dog fighting in the south of the country.

All the suspects are male Finns residing in southern Finland. The new developments are the result of an investigation into four to six alleged dog fights. Dog fighting is a breach of animal cruelty laws in Finland, and the case will be considered for prosecution in October. They are being investigated under suspicion of breaching the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act.

Chief Inspector Olli Töyräs of the Keskusrikospoliisin told reporters, "I would not like to speculate on the motives for the arranging of these dog fights. At least thus far there has been no evidence of illegal gambling on the outcome of fights. There also does not seem to be any large-scale organisation behind the incidents or connections with organised crime groupings. It would appear to be the pastime of a group of individuals." Despite this, the group is known to have links throughout Scandinavia, as well as possible links to Russia.

He added that about a dozen pit bulls from America were involved in the incidents.

Key evidence includes video footage and testimony from veterinary surgeons, who were present when police raided several locations suspected to be involved. "Statements by veterinary surgeons are a significant part of the investigation. They play the same role here as forensic pathologists would in a normal violent crime investigation," Inspector Töyräs said.

The investigation was begun as a result of an investigation into dog fighting in the United Kingdom by the state-run British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). A BBC journalist teamed up with a man with military experience to infiltrate a notorious dog fighting ring from Ulster, Ireland, known as The Farmer Boys. This uncovered links to a group involved in comparable activity in Finland. The documentary, which is part of the Panorama series, was broadcast in Finland yesterday by YLE.

The BBC had contacted Finland regarding it's discoveries in April. The BBC itself had begun it's investigation after Gerard Cavlan, a football player from Northern Ireland, was convicted on charges related to dog fighting.

The programme included graphic scenes of a dog fight in Finland, filmed using hidden cameras. The show's team also purchased a pit bull from a dealer in Finland with false documents showing it to be another breed (pit bulls are illegal in Britain) and successfully transported it back without detection via Germany and Ireland, taking a ferry into England from Northern Ireland.

The dog breeder is a member of SATHY, an organisation which describes itself as "a Finnish club devoted to dog breeds not recognized by FCI related associations (such as the Finnish Kennel Club, and some others). [The] Most important breeds for us are the American Bulldog, American Pit Bull Terrier, Toy Fox Terrier, American Hairless Terrier and Olde English Bulldog."

SATHY has issued a statement via their website to the affect that they felt the programme was misleading, and that Finnish dog breeders have initiated legal proceedings against the British journalist responsible for the programme. One of the dog breeders shown during the programme denied any criminal activity when approached by the Finnish Helsingin Sanomat news service.

Privacy laws in Finland required the faces of those believed to be involved to be pixelated during the Finnish version of the broadcast, although this was not mirrored in the UK screening - which, in an unprecedented move, coincided exactly with the showing in Finland. The show was widely discussed on the internet, with large volumes of material requiring deleted by site administrators as breaching Finnish privacy legislation.

The investigation is the only one ever conducted into dog fighting in Finland. Töyräs explained the problem to journalists: ”We have only had vague unconnected hints of this sort of activity in the past, and on the basis of these it was not possible to mount an earlier investigation."