BERLIN (AP) — German police and customs officers conducted dozens of raids across the country Wednesday and arrested at least nine people in a crackdown on the alleged human trafficking of temporary workers from outside the European Union.
Federal police in Berlin tweeted that the raids started at 7 a.m. local time (0800GMT). The police agency said officers searched homes and businesses, focusing on the German capital and surrounding Brandenburg state but also locations in Bremen and Lower Saxony states.
Authorities said they were investigating around 20 suspects for suspected involvement in allegedly forging EU citizenship documents and placing the workers, most of them from Ukraine and Moldova, with large logistics companies.
The federal police and prosecutors said that more than 2,200 police and customs officers were involved in the raids coordinated and led by the general prosecutor’s office of Berlin..
Among the people arrested were eight men men between the ages of 32 and 62, and a 42-year-old woman. The names of the suspects and the companies where the workers were assigned were not released in line with German privacy rules.
Authorities are investigating on suspected charges of trafficking foreigners, forgery of documents, organized illicit work and illegal employment.
The suspects allegedly operated a network of temporary employment agencies in the Baltics and in Germany, including dummy companies, according to federal police in Berlin.
Through these companies, the suspects then allegedly passed off temporary workers from non-EU countries as EU citizens using forged identity documents. The suspects allegedly retained the money that the logistics companies paid as wages for the temporary workers, dpa reported.
“The investigations suggest that up to 1,000 employees may have entered the local labor market through the network of companies operated by the gang,” prosecutors and federal police said in their statement. “In connection with the searches, the task forces encountered 275 persons whose residence status is unclear and who are suspected of unauthorized residence and unauthorized employment.”
Searches were carried out in 12 German states in all, including in the apartments of the suspects, in their businesses, at logistics centers and in the living quarters of the workers allegedly trafficked to Germany.
Police seized assets worth 19 million euros ($21.5 million), German news agency dpa said. They included national and international accounts, properties, vehicles and other luxury goods. Investigators also seized 90,000 euros in case, as well as documents, cellphones and electronic data.
“It is incredibly perfidious to want to make money from people's hardship, to shamelessly exploit their helplessness and desire for a better life,” dpa quoted Berlin's police union as saying.
Kirsten Grieshaber, The Associated Press