Traffickers treated vulnerable man like ‘private cash machine’

Lack of opportunity in home countries drives many people to search for work abroad. It is these aspirations for a better life that makes many people vulnerable to exploitation. Preying on the ambitions or desperation of people trying to improve their lives is a major tactic used by Human Trafficking gangs.

Traffickers will post fake job opportunities online, pose as recruitment agents, or befriend and groom someone before offering them ‘the opportunity of a life time.’

Once the victim is in the destination country and placed in work, they are told they are in debt to their trafficker. Their wages are diverted to the bank accounts of criminals, but the debt never goes away. Interest is added, rent is charged, other claims for food/bills are made against them, and the victim finds themselves working for years in debt bondage to pay back these so called ‘debts,’ whilst living in poverty and misery.

If they complain, they are assaulted and their families back home are threatened.

Normunds Freibergs and his accomplices Jacobus Stankevicius and Ruta Stankeviciene have been convicted of Modern Slavery offences in Wales

Three people who used these tactics to trick a Latvian man into coming to the UK for work have just been convicted of Modern Slavery offences.

One man, Normunds Freibergs, posed as an online recruitment agent and promised the victim, who was working in Germany, a better job in South Wales. Once here, he was placed in the home of two accomplices, Jacobus Stankevicius and Ruta Stankeviciene, and found work in a local factory.

They told the victim he now owed them thousands of pounds in fees, rent, costs to do with ‘Brexit’, and various other fake services such as renting space in the fridge. They took his passport and bankcard and forced him to open new bank accounts into which his wages were paid, and to which he had no access.

When he complained, they assaulted him and threated his family in Latvia.

The alarm was raised by colleagues of the victim after they became concerned over his lack of food at work, and lack of appropriate winter shoes and warm clothing. When they suggested he move closer to work, he said he wasn’t allowed.

Investigators from the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority (GLAA) arrested the defendants during an operation supported by Gwent Police in October 2018.

Now in his early 30s, the victim was supported by the GLAA and entered the National Referral Mechanism, a government support network for those who are trafficked and exploited.

He now has a job in another part of the UK and is doing well.

GLAA Investigating Officer Laura Thomas said: “Freibergs, Stankevicius and Stankeviciene treated this human being like their own private cash machine, stealing thousands of pounds of his hard-earned wages for their own ends.

“Debt bondage, where exploiters control and trap their victim in an endless cycle of perceived debt which realistically can never be repaid, is something our organisation unfortunately encounters all too often.”