Slavery gang made 'hundreds of thousands of pounds'

Image source, Northumbria Police
Image caption,
Clockwise from top left: Angelika Chec, Marian Rafael, Juraj Rafael, Ruzena Rafaelova Sr, Ruzena Rafaelova Jr and Roman Rafael

A Slovakian family of people traffickers enslaved their victims in the UK and kept their wages and benefits, making hundreds of thousands of pounds in the process.

The Newcastle-based Rafael family lured vulnerable people from central Europe.

Seven of the family are being sentenced at Teesside Crown court.

They were convicted of forced labour, money laundering and conspiracy to traffic with a view to exploitation in April.

The gang includes a teenager, who cannot be named.

Buying and selling victims for as little as £200, they spent the money on jewellery, casino trips, Mediterranean holidays and an Audi Q7.

A mobile phone obtained by police contained a photograph of a suitcase filled with tens of thousands of euros.

Victims were flown into the UK and put into low-quality housing in Newcastle's West End.

They would then be sent out, via agencies, to work long hours recycling tyres, washing cars, reclaiming bricks or at food factories.

Image caption,
The victims "were made dependent on the Rafaels who controlled them," prosecutors say

The Rafaels, who are of Roma origin, controlled their victims' bank accounts and kept their identity documents.

Additionally, they applied for National Insurance numbers, claimed benefits for their victims and took out loans in their names.

'Reliable income stream'

John Elvidge QC, prosecuting, said: "They were not chained or bound but that was not necessary because their circumstances made them compliant and to all intents and purposes, captives."

The prosecution said the family's "reliable income stream" ran into hundreds of thousands of pounds over a seven-year period.

Some cash was converted into gold and transported out of the UK to relatives in southern Slovakia.

Brothers Roman Rafael, 33, and Marian Rafael, 39, were the gang leaders and pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit slavery, conspiracy to traffic people for exploitation and conspiracy to commit money laundering.

Roman's wife Angelica Chec, the 30-year-old Polish mother of his four children, and Marian's wife Ruzena Rafaelova, 38, denied those charges but were convicted after a trial.

The ringleader's 58-year-old mother, also called Ruzena Rafaelova, was convicted of money laundering and people trafficking.

The bosses' cousin Juraj Rafael, 38, and a 17-year-old were convicted of trafficking and money laundering.

They will be sentenced on Friday.

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