Sixty-year-old Miira Pasma’s students are impatiently waiting for their piano teacher to return, unaware that the Finnish national is lodged in jail nearly 6,000 kilometres away on charges of human trafficking.
Pasma, a piano virtuoso and a grandmother to her students at Halikko town in Finland, was arrested in Mumbai for trying to help three Sri Lankan women travel to Europe illegally using her identification documents. Pasma was caught in June after an alleged fourth attempt failed.
“We have not told the children of her arrest as we do not want to scare them. They love her like a grandmother and we do not want them to worry. My son would be devastated and terrified if he knew she was sitting in jail,” Michelle Virtanen, whose six-year-old son is one of Pasma’s students at a private school where she has been teaching for the past 40 years, said.
Pasma was caught on June 26, hours after Sri Lankan national Kuhapriya Thevarasa (28) was stopped from boarding a Lufthansa flight to Frankfurt, Germany, at Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj International Airport by airlines officials after an examination of the passport had revealed it was forged. According to Mumbai Police, the Bureau of Immigration stamp on the passport was fake and the passenger was not Miira Pasma, as stated on the document.
A chargesheet, filed by the Sahar police, in the last week of August claimed that Pasma had handed over the forged passport and boarding pass for the flight to Frankfurt to Thevarasa inside a washroom in the airport.
Almost like in a spy novel, the chargesheet said, the two women had met at an airport cafe earlier on June 26 and Theverasa was instructed to pick up a magazine containing the documents deliberately left behind by Pasma inside a washroom. She was to leave behind for Pasma another magazine with her forged voter ID card and a boarding pass for an Air India flight to Ahmedabad.
Immigration officials initially suspected that Pasma had managed to escape, but realised that the woman was en route Ahmedabad and alerted their counterparts in Gujarat to apprehend her once the aircraft landed.
In March 2017, immigration authorities at the Mumbai airport had caught four British nationals and four Sri Lankan nationals attempting the same manoeuvre. Subsequent investigation revealed that Pasma had travelled to India 18 times since 2012 and had also enrolled in a course to learn Tamil at Pondicherry University.
According to police chargesheet, in 2016, Pasma had befriended an Indian citizen, Loren Sanjana, and a Sri Lankan national, identified by the police only as Kumar.
Kumar, the chargesheet said, had urged Pasma to help Sri Lankan women, who were facing a threat to their lives in their native country, to flee to Europe. Pasma is alleged to have consented to hand over forged passports bearing her name to three Lankan women, who flew to Paris and Zurich from Delhi in 2017 and 2018, and to Thevarasa.
For her efforts, she was allegedly paid 1500 Euros per passenger by Kumar and a Lankan travel agent, Anthony Michael Arulappah. The men also paid for accommodation expenses, apart from her tickets to and from Finland, the chargesheet claims.
Rejecting the charges, Virtanen told The Indian Express that Pasma is not someone who was concerned about money. “Her life is teaching the piano. Many of her students have gone on to become musicians and teachers themselves,” Virtanen, who runs an artist management agency in Finland, said.
Virtanen also described the veteran musician as a person who trusted people easily. “I don’t believe that that she would knowingly do something wrong. She must have been tricked,” she added. Virtanen said that the only thing that Pasma would tell her about her trips to India was that she donated clothes to underprivileged children.
The chargesheet also accuses Pasma of driving to Nepal and avoiding an immigration check each time she sent a Sri Lankan woman abroad.
Advocate Prabhakar Tripathi, who is representing Pasma, claimed that she was cheated by Sanjana. “He tricked her into helping the Lankan nationals travel to Europe and kept the money paid to her by the travel agents for himself,” he said. Tripathi also rejected the charges that Pasma had helped three Lankan women travel to Europe between 2017 and 2018.
The chargesheet also says Thevarasa’s father, a farmer originally from Jaffna in the north of the country, allegedly paid Rs 14 lakh in Sri Lankan currency to Arulappah to facilitate her travel to Europe. When Thevarasa’s attempts to fly to Europe from Qatar in 2017 using her original passport failed, Arupallah reportedly tried to get her an Indian passport. In the interim, he sent her to Denpasar, Indonesia in 2018 with other Sri Lankans for three months.
Earlier this year, he had sent her to a home in Chennai for six months where she was given a forged voter ID card and informed late in June that her documents had come through. Thevarasa told immigration officers that trying to travel to Europe as a Lankan national was an “uphill task”. She claimed that Arulappah had instructed her to seek asylum once she landed in Frankfurt, states the chargesheet.
Both Thevarasa and Pasma are currently in judicial custody at Byculla Jail. Virtanen, who has been sending letters to Pasma through her lawyer, said that the latter, in her first message immediately after her arrest, had asked about her students.