Jail for quartet who exploited Cambridgeshire vegetable workers

Four Latvians have been jailed for more than 23 years in total for exploiting migrant workers in the Fenland vegetable sector, following a joint operation by Cambridgeshire Police and Gangmasters Licensing Authority (GLA).

Mezals, Valujevs, Valujeva and Vankova - Image: GLA
Mezals, Valujevs, Valujeva and Vankova - Image: GLA

Ivars Mezals, Juris Valujevs, his wife Oksana Valujeva and Lauma Vankova were found guilty of conspiracy to acquire criminal property in March following a trial at Huntingdon Crown Court. Vankova, Valujeva and Valujevs were also found guilty of assisting an immigration offence, namely arranging sham marriages.

On Friday 20 May Valujevs was jailed for three years for the criminal property offence and five-and-a-half years for the immigration offence, the sentences to run consecutively. Vankova and Valujeva were each jailed for two years and four years on the same charges respectively, again to run consecutively. Mezals was jailed on his single charge for three years.

Vankova, Valujeva and Valujevs had been tried for the sham marriage offences as part of a previous trial at Blackfriars Crown Court in December 2014, however, the jury had failed to reach a verdict. At that same trial, Valujevs and Mezals had been found guilty of acting as unlicensed gangmasters.

Detectives discovered all four defendants were using the bank accounts of victims to commit offences. The court heard victims would be brought to the UK, housed in accommodation controlled by the defendants and placed in debt bondage through the withholding of work and overcharging for transport and rent. They would be taken to banks to open accounts in their own names but using the contact details of either Vankova, Valujeva or Mezals so they could control the accounts.

According to a GLA representative: "The workers trafficked by the accused were employed in agriculture, harvesting a variety of vegetable crops in the Fenland area."

Vankova, Valujeva and Valujevs had also either offered or forced three women to go through with sham marriages in order to repay debt. One woman was offered £2,000 but refused to go through with the marriage while another was told she would receive £1,500 for marrying a man in India. She did go through with the marriage in order to pay a £1,000 debt but said she was never paid and Valujevs used instead the money to buy a new car.

Detective Inspector Jenny Bristow said: "The operation run by the defendants left many people in abject poverty and debt and all four defendants ruthlessly took advantage of the victims for their own gain."

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