Human TraffickingNews

Violent labour exploitation gang busted in Romania and the UK

The Romanian Police (Poliția Română) and the United Kingdom Northamptonshire Police, supported by Europol and Eurojust, have dismantled a criminal network involved in human trafficking, labour exploitation and money laundering.

The action day on 27 April led to:
25 house searches (13 in Romania and 12 in Corby, the UK);
5 arrests (2 in Romania and 3 in the UK);
Seizures included digital equipment and mobile phones, two high-end cars, luxury goods, weapons, and the equivalent of over EUR 230 000 in cash in different currencies.

Victims worked for little or no payment

Active since early 2018, the criminal network lured vulnerable people in unstable financial situations by offering them jobs in the UK. The suspects recruited victims directly from the Romanian county of Iasi, but also through intermediaries. So far the investigators have identified 27 victims, both male and female, of Romanian origin. The criminal network transported the victims to the UK where they took their ID documents and phones and forced them to work for little or no wages at all. The victims were forced to work 16 hours a day and seven days a week. The suspects established a wide network for the recruitment, transportation, accommodation and exploitation of victims.

In collaboration with managers from a number of companies in the UK, the members of the criminal gang supplied businesses, such as factories and car wash companies, with low-wage workers. As the suspects were in possession of the victims’ ID documents, they could take out different loans using the victims’ names. The criminal networks also controlled the bankcards of the victims, withdrawing all salary payments made to them by their employers. The gang threatened the victims and their families back home with physical violence. With no means of communication and under strict control by the criminal gang, the victims worked without receiving any payment, and without sufficient food supplies or basic health care. The suspects laundered the criminal proceeds through investments in real estate in Romania and through the purchase of luxury goods.

Cross-border coordination

Law enforcement authorities initiated investigations into this criminal network in 2020. Europol coordinated the operational activities, facilitated the exchange of information and provided analytical support. Europol deployed an expert to the UK to cross-check operational information in real time and support the investigators on the ground.

In November 2021, Eurojust set up a joint investigation team (JIT) between Romania and the UK to facilitate the judicial cooperation.