Prosecutor calls for jail term of at least six years for hockey player Jere Karalahti
Sports tribunal overturns playing ban
The prosecution in a massive drug case is calling for a sentence of at least six years imprisonment for ice hockey player Jere Karalahti, who went on trial on Tuesday accused of aggravated drug crime, as well complicity in aggravated drug crime.
Karalahti denied the charges that were read out in a session of Espoo District Court, which was held at a prison in Vantaa for security reasons. Karalahti is one of 21 defendants believed to have connections with the Bandidos motorcycle gang.
Prosecutors say that Karalahti's role in the series of crimes involved financing purchases of large quantities illegal drugs; he allegedly supplied the main defendants with EUR 20,000 to buy about four kilos of amphetamine from Estonia.
The prosecution claims that Karalahti gave EUR 15,000 in cash to the two main perpetrators, who delivered the money to Estonia to pay for a quantity of amphetamine.
The information on the sums of money involved is partly based on electronic surveillance.
The prosecution says that Karalahti borrowed EUR 10,000 from a former teammate, Olli Jokinen of the Florida Panthers NHL team. Karalahti told Jokinen that he needed the money to disengage from a player contract with the Helsinki team HIFK. Jokinen himself is not suspected of any crime.
Karalahti is also suspected of having used the same excuse to persuade one of the other defendants to lend EUR 5,000 to one of the suspected main perpetrators.
Karalahti denies involvement in the financing or acquisition of drugs in any way.
His lawyer Jarkko Jaatela said that the EUR 10,000 money that Karalahti gave one of the main defendants was for the payment of a debt, and that he had no knowledge that it was to have been used for buying drugs. Jaatela also said that there was no evidence that drugs would have been acquired with the money.
Karalahti himself has not directly addressed the charges. During the investigation, "no comment" was his answer to about 100 questions put to him during police interrogation.
The trial is part of a larger drugs case which has been investigated by several police precincts around the country. A total of 15 kilos of amphetamines have been confiscated in the investigation of this branch alone. Charges have also been raised concerning small amounts of cocaine.
Three men are suspected of being the main perpetrators - one Bandidos member, one membership candidate, and a business partner. Prosecutors are calling for prison sentences of 12 to 13 years for the three.
Other defendants include suspected financiers, mules, and buyers.
Karalahti is known to be a friend of one of the main suspects. Surveillance material shows that Karalahti has frequented the Bandidos clubhouse in Helsinki, and has spent nights there.
Karalahti was allegedly brought into the matter in the summer, when the main suspects allegedly needed to get a "capital investor" for the acquisition of drugs.
The three main suspects reportedly lost a stash of about eight kilos of amphetamines which were found hidden in a forest in Vantaa, leading to a need to replace them with a fresh supply.
Police managed to find the forest hideaway after acquiring a memory card of a digital camera containing instructions on finding the hidden drugs. The amphetamines were confiscated, and a surveillance device was installed in the hiding place.
Karalahti also had some good news on Tuesday, when a sports tribunal overturned a ban on playing imposed on him on December 12th 2007.
Previously in HS International Edition:
Ice hockey player Jere Karalahti fired from Kärpät of Oulu (13.12.2007)
Hockey player Jere Karalahti released pending trial on drugs charges (10.12.2007)
Hockey pro Jere Karalahti taken into custody on drug suspicions (8.11.2007)
Hockey player Karalahti indicted in massive drugs case (16.1.2008)