Police uncover suspected human trafficking at bakery company in Latvia

Latvian State Police has detained businessman Jāzeps Zukuls, board chairman of baked goods producer Adugs, on suspicion of human trafficking, the LETA news agency reported November 20. 

Last week, State Police detained an organized group on suspicion of human trafficking, laundering of criminally obtained  capital, and causing bodily harm, police said. Its members have exploited foreign workers at the baked goods company, using their helplessness, forcing them into material dependency, making threats and harming them physically. The police are calling for others who might have suffered from their criminal activities or who have information useful in the investigation to report it by calling 110 or writing an e-mail: [email protected]

The State Police had received information from an unspecified foreign embassy that several employees of a Latgale-based baked goods company had reported forced labor.

In response to the information received, criminal proceedings on trafficking, laundering, and causing bodily harm were initiated by the State Police in April this year.

During the investigation, it was found that several third-country nationals had long been exploited in this Latgale-based company.

They were allegedly not paid full salary and forced into debt. Workers were deprived of passports, subjected to physical violence and threatened with expulsion from the State if they failed to comply with all the demands of the criminal group.

On November 10, police carried out authorized searches and detention of persons in the counties of Jaunjelgava, Līvāni, Aizkraukle, Daugavpils and Ķekava. A total of 22 sites have been searched and cash around EUR 150 000, jewelry, ammunition and other items which could play a role in criminal proceedings have been withdrawn.

On the same date, the police also detained members of the organized group, three men suspected of the crimes.

The group leader is known in the criminal environment in Latgale. He reportedly also has extensive connections in the political circles in the region.

The person mentioned had allegedly previously come to the attention of law enforcement authorities for various crimes: tax evasion, environmental pollution, criminal offences against management procedures and other offences. On the other hand, the other two suspected men had not been detained before by the police.

The group leader has been taken into custody. The other members of the group have possibility of bail.

Police did not name the company nor persons involved, but Latvian Television has reported throughout the day using the name of the Adugs company and its owner Jāzeps Zukuls. Zukuls' lawyer confirmed that her client was in custody but suggested the circumstances were a case of "raiderism" or a battle for control of the company.

 

The national police are looking for others who may have become victims of trafficking, working under their authority, or may have information useful in the investigation. You can contact the police by calling 110 or writing an e-mail: [email protected]

After the news broke, several retail chains that stock the company's products announced they were terminating their relationships with the supplier.

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