Three arrested for exploiting farm laborers in Italy
Three people have been arrested on charges of forming a criminal gang that exploited grape and cherry pickers in the southern Puglia region in the heel of Italy's boot, police said Tuesday, Xinhua reported.
The three suspects, all Italian nationals, are a female gangmaster and two men, one a manager and one an accountant, who ran a farm with 1,000 employees, the police statement said.
The woman headed up a network of gangmasters in the region, according to investigators. She recruited the day laborers, also Italian nationals, who were bused to the farm, where they were paid 2.50 euros an hour to work up to 13 hours in the fields, picking grapes and cherries.
"The workers were forced, under threat of being fired, to work backbreaking hours with day shifts of 10-13 consecutive hours, including at night, and for 28-30 consecutive days," the statement said.
Police have seized assets worth over one million euros, including real estate, land, cars, and bank accounts, as part of their "Operation Black Stain".
The arrests and asset seizures are the culmination of an investigation that began in 2016, in which police found evidence that the criminal gang engaged in "illegal intermediation and exploitation of labor, extortion against the laborers, defrauding the national pension fund (INPS), and self-money laundering."
The Italian government in October 2016 passed a law criminalizing the practice of exploiting labor in near-slavery conditions, known as gangmastering.
This offence is now punishable with up to six years in prison, according to the Official Gazette.