Romanian suspected of acting as illegal gangmaster

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A Romanian national has been arrested suspected of acting as an illegal gangmaster.

The man was arrested yesterday (Wednesday) in the Albert Avenue area of Lurgan by officers from the Gangmaster Licensing Authority assisted by the PSNI.

The 39-year-old Romanian national was apprehended as part of the regulatory authority’s ongoing investigations into unlicensed labour provision on fruit farms in County Armagh.

He is suspected of supplying workers to pick apples and other fruit without a licence at various locations in the area – activities that require a GLA licence.

He was released to report to the Public Prosecution Service.

Last October another Romanian national Gheorge Ionas pleaded guilty to operating as a gangmaster without a licence at Craigavon Magistrates’ Court. He received a £500 fine.

The GLA discovered three Romanian men sleeping in an outbuilding in the Albert Street area of Lurgan - the building was made out of bare breeze blocks and had no heating and only limited electricity.

It was later declared “unfit for human habitation” by environmental health officers at Craigavon Borough Council.

Another Romanians Samuil Covaci, 23 with an address at Charles Street in Portadown, is in custody charged with 12 human trafficking offences, 12 forced labour offences and acting as an unlicensed gangmaster.

Charged alongside him is fellow Romanian 31-year-old Ioan Lacatus, who faces similar offences and has an address at Hanover Street, also in Portadown.

The charges arise after 20 people were “rescued from slavery” by police living in squalid conditions in the same house as Covaci.

“Providing workers for roles in agriculture, horticulture and food processing and packaging without a GLA licence is a criminal offence that carries a sentence of up to 10 years in prison,” said a GLA spokesperson.

“If anyone suspects workers are being exploited or provided by unlicensed operators they are asked to contact the GLA on the confidential reporting line 0800 432 0804 or call Crimestoppers on 0800 555111.”