Human traffickers jailed for selling Slovakian women in Glasgow
Four people who trafficked women from Slovakia to Glasgow and forced their victims into prostitution and sham marriages have been jailed.
The women were transported to flats in the Govanhill area between 2011 and 2017, then exploited by the gang. One was sold in the city's Argyle Street.
Vojtech Gombar, 61, Anil Wagle, 37, Jana Sandorova, 28, and Ratislav Adam, 31, were convicted in October.
The High Court in Edinburgh heard their crimes were "utterly repugnant".
Gombar was jailed for 12 years, Wagle for eight years and six months, Sandorova for seven years, and her partner Adam for nine years.
Police cracked the trafficking ring in a five-year operation dubbed Operation Synapsis and said the sentencing served as a warning to other gangs.
Most of the buyers were men from Pakistan who wanted to marry the women to gain EU citizenship so they could live and work in Europe.
The BBC understands a number of men were arrested by police but there was not enough evidence to charge them.
It is believed at least one man has since been deported from the UK.
Officers first became aware of the trafficking and exploitation in 2014 but it took a three-year operation before about 70 officers raided four flats in the Govanhill area of Glasgow, leading to the arrest of Gombar, Wagle, Sandorova and Adam.
Gombar, described as the ringleader, had family ties with fellow Slovakians Adam and Sandorova.
They are ethnic Romani and came from the town of Trebisov in the east of Slovakia, near its border with Ukraine, from where most of the women were trafficked.
Wagle, a failed asylum seeker from Nepal, initially became involved because he wanted to buy a bride.
Passing sentence, judge Lord Beckett expressed his "considerable gratitude to the judicial system of Slovakia for invaluable international co-operation" in bringing the case to trial.
He said: "Such crimes are notoriously difficult to escape from and complain about to the authorities."
The judge added: "However, a number of young women have had the courage to do so and explain to the jury the awful things that were done to them."
Lord Beckett said that such crimes against impoverished women were "utterly repugnant".
He told the four: "Not one of you has shown any insight into the suffering you caused and not one of you has expressed even a shred of remorse."
All four were placed on the sex offenders' register and made the subject of trafficking and exploitation prevention orders limiting them to one mobile phone, a maximum of £1,000 in cash and imposing reporting restrictions and notification requirements of travel plans for five years to begin on completion of their jail terms.
Lord Beckett said the trafficking scheme was done for "significant financial gain" with victims duped into believing that work and a good life awaited them in this country.
He said they spoke little or no English and their identity cards were removed and they were kept under control on arrival in Glasgow.
Gombar, Sandorova and Adam, all of Allison Street, Govanhill, and Wagle, who lived nearby in Westmoreland Street, had denied a string of trafficking and sexual exploitation charges at their earlier trial at the High Court in Glasgow, but were found guilty of offences linked to serious and organised crime.
Lord Beckett told Gombar, who was convicted of 13 offences, including holding victims in slavery or servitude, he was "callous and indifferent" to the wellbeing of the women he was holding in slavery.
"One stark example was illustrated when, after intervention by border officers, you abandoned [a victim] in France leaving her with no money and no belongings to find her own way back to Slovakia," the judge said.
Mother-of-five Sandorova's victims included her own pregnant cousin, who she "brazenly" sold to Wagle in a street, then forced to work as prostitute when the deal broke down.
"You showed little regard for the welfare of your children when causing and allowing prostitution to go on under your roof," Lord Beckett said.
The court heard that Wagle tried to sell the pregnant woman he had bought as a wife back to her own husband when he could no longer control her.
He also held two other unknown women as slaves for "considerable" financial gain.
The judge told Wagle: "Your attitude to all of your victims was callous and contemptuous."
Interview by Connor Gillies , BBC Scotland News Reporter
One of the gang's human trafficking victims who was sold in Glasgow city centre has broken her silence, saying she felt alone with no one on her side.
The woman, who cannot be named for legal reasons, was traded for £10,000 cash in front of unsuspecting shoppers near Primark on Argyll Street.
It was part of a sham marriage scheme organised by the Slovakian human traffickers to help men become EU citizens.
She told BBC Scotland she was forced to work as a prostitute and slave by the ruthless gang in the city's Govanhill area.
"My life was a mess and horrible," she said. "Nobody could help. Nobody was on my side.
"I was alone and it was a lot to go through. It was so bad. So much happened to me in one year.
"They make me a prostitute and tried to bring men to her home. I needed to sleep with them for money."
Asked if that happened every day, she replied "yeah".
Four of her captors have now been jailed for several years.
"My life now has changed," she added. "My life is much better than before".
Defence counsel Ronnie Renucci QC, for Gombar, said he continued to deny committing the crimes.
Gary Allan QC, for Wagle, said he had come to this country because of the political situation in his native Nepal.
He said that at the end of his sentence it was likely he would deported and returned to his homeland where he had "concerns for his well-being".
Mark Moir, for Sandorova, said: "She has found prison a particularly difficult place because she cannot speak English and she is very isolated within the jail."
Solicitor advocate Jim Stephenson, for Adam, said he arrived in this country in 2012 and continued to maintain his innocence over the offences.
Responding to the sentencing, Det Supt Filippo Capaldi, head of Police Scotland's human trafficking unit, said: "Today's sentencing is a vindication for those women who were victims of this criminal gang and of their bravery in telling us about their horrific experiences.
"It also serves as a warning to traffickers operating in Scotland: make no mistake, you are not welcome here.
"We will work with our partners nationally and internationally, and within our own local communities, to identify victims and to pursue the gangs who exploit and enslave people for financial gain, and bring them to justice."