Spanish authorities estimate that the organized group that was recently dismantled in a combined operation of the Portuguese and Spanish polices must have enslaved 3,000 Portuguese in the areas of La Rioja, Navarra, Zaragoza (Spain) and Alava (Basque country). This number and further details where recently divulged in Spain at a press conference that gathered representatives of the Public Ministry and the polices of both countries engaged in this action, held under the Eurotrust cooperation programme.
Overall, in both countries 28 people have been detained (26 Portuguese and 2 Spanish). Of the total 31 European capture mandates which were issued, only three have still to be carried out. 21 suspects have been detained in Spain and the couple pointed as leader of the illegal group was arrested last week in Portugal and remains under preventive prison. This couple has Portuguese nationality, and all the trials will take place in Portugal as well.
Since 2004, this network carried out highly violent activities, which showed an incredible despise by basic human rights and dignity. In 2005, 22 people who had organized a similar group were detained in another police operation. All of them ended up being released by the authorities. Some of them were now arrested again. This says much about impunity.
800 of the 3,000 enslaved people were held captive in the region of La Rioja alone. The recruiting was always done in the same way by the gang: to particularly fragile or lower class people – specially addicts, alcoholics, people without home, poor and/or illiterate people and even disabled ones –, contacted mainly in the North of Portugal, this criminal group would promise a monthly salary of 700 euros.
As soon as they arrived in Spain, they were closed in cabins without any basic conditions and forced to deliver all their bank documents, which the gang used to control every bank account movement. The money flowed into the accounts, still their owners would never get to touch or use it. The work day was from sunrise until sunset, or otherwise until they were feeling completely exhausted. After some years, when the slaves were not profitable anymore, the gang would push them inside cars and abandon them in Portugal.
A man who had disappeared in 1998 was found alive eight years later, in a small city of the north of Portugal: he could only remember his name when they found him; the other events he suffered under the gang cruelty could come to his mind only after some time. There are reports of women who were forced to have sexual intercourse with their abductors.
The authorities of both countries believe that this network got to have approximately 100 members of several family clans, who obeyed to a perfectly structured organization, with a leading nucleus and several smaller units with very specific tasks and missions.