Fenland gangmasters receive prison terms
23rd December 2014
Two men who exploited migrant workers by acting as unlicensed gangmasters in Fenland have been sentenced.
Latvians Juris Valujevs and Ivars Mezals (picture links below) were found guilty of acting as unlicensed gangmasters last week following a nine-week trial at Blackfriars Crown Court in London.
Valujevs, 36, of Turbus Road, Kings Lynn, was sentenced to one year and four months while Mezals, 28, previously of Conference Way, Wisbech, was given an 18 month sentence.
During the trial the court heard that Valujevs and Mezals were 'business partners', supplying companies with migrant workers from the Latvian and Lithuanian communities between 2009 and 2013.
These workers told the court how they were promised plentiful and well-paid employment. In reality, they were rarely given work straight away and then work was tightly controlled, placing and keeping them in a state of 'debt bondage'.
When they were found work, Valujevs and Mezals would intercept their wages and make unwarranted deductions for rent, debt, transport and fines, in some cases leaving them with £20 or less a week to live on.
The court heard how a female witness was told by Valujevs that she would "end up like Alisa", which she took to be a reference to a woman whose body was found on the Sandringham Estate in Norfolk in January 2012.
Ivars Mezals (left) and Juris Valujevs both received custodial sentences at Blackfriars Court in London A further female witness told the court how Mezals had suggested paying back debt by selling her organs because she did not drink or smoke.
Detective Chief Inspector Donna Wass, who led the investigation, said: "I hope this court case has shown how seriously we and the courts take these matters.
"The operation run by Valujevs and Mezals left many people in abject poverty and debt with seemingly no way out of their situation.
"Victims were promised a better life in the United Kingdom with well-paid work, but were placed in over-crowded accommodation and had their work and debt controlled for them.
"Valujevs and Mezals ruled through fear - playing on their reputations to ensure their workers stayed in line and did not seek outside help - and approached the exploitation of people as a business opportunity."
Press release issued by GLA Communications and Information Officer Paul Fearn. For more information from the GLA contact 0115 959 7069 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Notes to editors
1. the GLA operates throughout the UK and is a Non-Departmental Public Body.
2. The authority was formed in 2005 in the wake of the Morecambe Bay cockle picking disaster when 23 Chinese workers drowned on the sands.
3. The GLA licences companies that supply labour (gangmasters) for agriculture, horticulture, shellfish gathering as well as all associated processing and packaging.
4. Its main strategic priorities are to prevent worker exploitation, protect vulnerable people and tackle unlicensed and criminal activity.
5. Under the Gangmasters (Licensing) Act (2004), it is illegal both to operate as, or employ the services of, an unlicensed gangmaster.