Migrant exploitation gang jailed for 23 years

By James Ridler contact

- Last updated on GMT

Exploitation gang from left to right, Oksana Valujeva, Lauma Vankova, Ivar Mezals, Juris Valujevs
Exploitation gang from left to right, Oksana Valujeva, Lauma Vankova, Ivar Mezals, Juris Valujevs

Related tags: Crime

Four people have been jailed for a combined total of 23 years for offences relating to the exploitation of migrant workers ­– some employed in the vegetable sector – after a joint police and Gangmasters Licensing Authority (GLA) investigation.

The gang, Juris Valujevs (aged 37), Ivar Mezals (aged 30), Lauma Vankova (aged 27) and Oksana Valujeva (aged 35), were found guilty of labour offences in March following a trial at Huntingdon Crown Court.

The defendants – convicted as a result of Operation Endeavour – brought their victims into the UK and housed them in accommodation they controlled where they withheld work and overcharged for transport and rent.

Victims were forced to open bank accounts in their own names, but used the contact details of Vankova, Valujeva or Mezals so they could control the accounts.

‘Abject poverty and debt’

Detective Inspector Jenny Bristow said: “The operation run by the defendants left many people in abject poverty and debt and all four defendants ruthlessly took advantage of the victims for their own gain.

“We know the exploitation of vulnerable people, many of whom simply want to make a better life for themselves in the United Kingdom, is still happening. However, we are committed to working with colleagues in partner agencies to protect vulnerable people and bring those who commit criminal offences against them to justice.”

In addition to offences relating to the exploitation of food industry labour, three of the four offered or forced three women to go through with sham marriages in order to repay debts.

Vankova, Valujevs and Valujeva were found guilty for these offences.

One woman was told she would be paid £1,500 for marrying a man in India, but was never paid and she said Valujevs used the money to buy a car.

Economic migrants in Wisbech

Operation Endeavour was the result of a joint agency campaign called operation Pheasant which began 2013. It aimed to tackle reports of homes with multiple occupancy and poor living standards affecting economic migrants in the Wisbech area.

Meanwhile, two Slovakian brothers have been sentenced to six years each in prison, after being convicted of trafficking Slovak nationals, some of whom were working in the food industry.

Marian Dzuga, now 38 years old, of Windsor Road in Gillingham and Jozef Dzuga, 37 years old, of Salisbury Road in Chatham, were both found guilty of trafficking within the UK with intent to exploit following a month-­long trial at Maidstone Crown Court.

Related topics: People & Skills, Legal, Services

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