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Trafficking victims told by 'The Master' they would get new life - but were 'treated like dogs'

They were told they would get well-paid jobs and a new life in Northern Ireland.

A MAN, HIS wife and brother-in-law were sentenced to time in jail for their involvement in a human trafficking operation in Northern Ireland.

Ioan Lacatus, a 33-year-old delivery driver, of Hanover Street, Portadown, pleaded guilty at Craigavon Crown Court to five counts of trafficking persons into the UK for exploitation, conspiring to traffic persons within the UK for exploitation, acting as an unlicensed gangmaster and converting criminal property.

The PSNI said he was sentenced to 30 months and had a suspended sentence of 15 months for a previous offence imposed to run consecutively, bringing his time to a total of three years, nine months.

Ioan Lacatus Ioan Lacatus PSNI PSNI

A wider police investigation in the Portadown/Lurgan area led to the rescue of 10 further victims and the arrests of seven further suspects “for various offences in relation to the exploitation of workers and gang master offences”.

A variety of criminal justice outcomes are still under consideration in relation to these investigations, said the PSNI.

Wife and brother-in-law

Lacatus’s wife and brother-in-law were also sentenced at the court.

Christina Nicoleta Covaci Christina Nicoleta Covaci PSNI PSNI

His wife, Christina Nicoleta Covaci, aged 31, admitted converting criminal property and entering into an arrangement to acquire, retain or control criminal property. She was sentenced to 12 months, suspended for two years, said police.

Samuil Covaci Samuil Covaci PSNI PSNI

His brother-in-law, 25-year-old factory worker Samuil Covaci, from Tandragee Road, Portadown admitted conspiring to traffic persons within the UK for exploitation. He received a conditional discharge for two years.

Police said that in August 2014, four Romanian workers approached police claiming to be victims of exploitation.

Police enquiries led to the discovery of another eight victims of human trafficking for exploitation.
Within a few days the three defendants were arrested and interviewed with assistance from the Gangmasters Licensing Authority (GLA).

There were three women and nine men among the rescued. They all claimed a man calling himself ‘the Ministro’ (the Master) had encouraged them to come to Northern Ireland for well-paid jobs and a new life.

This man was identified as Romanian national Ioan Lacatus.

Police explained that the victims were collected from Dublin Port by Lacatus and his brother-in-law Samuil Covaci on various dates.

They were then driven to Portadown and placed in a house in Charles Street. This house also contained people including Samuil Covaci, who police believe acted as a minder.

Meanwhile, Lacatus “watched the house from his car wash business across the street”.

Filthy and overcrowded

trafficking bedroom PSNI PSNI

Police said that paperwork was completed for the trafficked individuals with a local recruitment agency. They then went to work in local factories.

Victims claimed they worked long hours. They were transported to and from work by Lacatus and Samuil Covaci and often waited three hours for lifts home. They were exhausted.

Here, police described the “filthy and overcrowded” living conditions:

Victims claimed there was little food and no toilet paper. One woman was told to eat stones when food ran out. Victims told police of being treated like dogs, of living in fear and being shouted at by Lacatus who said he was their boss now. They were told by Samuil Covaci not to speak to people in their work at local food processing factories and to stay in the house when not working.

The victims claimed they never received any wages and had to beg Lacatus for pocket-money.

The paperwork they had filled in unbeknownst to them gave permission for their wages to be paid directly into the bank accounts of Lacatus and his wife Covaci. The pair then used their wages to support themselves and their family.

Detective Superintendent John McVea, human trafficking lead for PSNI, said:

There is an assumption that most victims are trafficked into and around Northern Ireland for the purposes of providing sexual services. This is incorrect. The majority of victims are exploited for labour. Last year 34 of the 59 victims identified in Northern Ireland were linked to labour exploitation.

He said the case should serve as an alarm call “to everyone in our society that human trafficking is happening right under our noses”.

These victims lived in an ordinary street and worked in an ordinary factory. But they had to endure extraordinary deprivation.

“It is important that landlords, those running employment agencies and managing businesses, take steps to ensure any foreign nationals they have contact with are here legally and are treated in accordance with the law. If anyone has any doubts or suspicions, they should contact police.”

GLA Head of Operations, Ian Waterfield, said: “Sadly, tales of forced labour like that played out by the ruthless individuals that have been convicted in this case are all too common throughout the UK.”

He noted that the judge made forfeiture orders for two cars belonging to the defendants and £620 in cash.

A decision on compensation for the victims will be made later this month, said Waterfield.

The current occupants of the house the individuals lived in, and the owner, are not connected to this case.

Read: The majority of child trafficking victims in this country last year were Irish>

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