UK convictions expose underground-labor ring

Two Latvians have been convicted of operating a debt-bondage scheme exploiting workers from both Latvia and Lithuania who were illegally contracted into vegetable- and flower-picking jobs across East Anglia region, reported The Guardian Thursday.

Juris Valujevs, 36, and Ivars Mezals, 28, were convicted at Blackfriars crown court, London, of conducting job recruiting without a gangmaster’s licence.  Their nine-week trial aired evidence of exploitation, control by debt-bondage, overcrowded housing, and allegations of false marriages arranged for aiding illegal immigrants.

The two men’s wives are also charged with conspiring in the sham marriage cases.

The case revealed unpleasant details of the cruel and clever ways the gang employed in attracting and housing the prospective workers, but then withholding actual job opportunities until effective relations of debt-bondage were established.

Despite a previous rejection by British authorities to register Valujevs as a legal gangmaster, the defense produced witnesses testifying that the both men were simply being helpful to the many recent immigrants of the tight-knit Baltic communities, some of whom were perchance down-and-out.

Nevertheless, Latvia has record of Valujevs being booked for stealing and violating traffic laws, while both and Mezals have drunk driving violations on the books in the UK.

The case is bound to risk further tarnishing the image of the Balts, otherwise mostly proving themselves to be hard-working and law-abiding EU citizens residing for the time being and the foreseeable future in Britain.

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