On 17 September 2019, Bulgarian and French law enforcement authorities, supported by Europol and Eurojust, dismantled an organised crime group involved in trafficking human beings for labour exploitation and money laundering. More than 80 investigators from Bulgaria and France were involved in the action day.
The criminal group recruited workers in Bulgaria for the harvesting season in France. The investigations led to the identification of 167 potential victims, employed by four different winegrowing companies near the French city of Lyon. The French law enforcement authorities arrested four members of the group, three from Bulgaria and one from France. The Bulgarian members of the group were responsible for recruitment in Bulgaria while the French member arranged logistics, including organising accommodation for the workers.
Recruitment agency behind the labour exploitation
The organised crime group operated behind a legal business, an employment agency based in Bulgaria. The company recruited Bulgarian nationals from disadvantaged regions as seasonal workers for the French agricultural sector. The workers signed employment contracts in a foreign language while being told they would receive €60 a day. In addition to the wage, the workers were also promised housing and transport.
In reality, they were sent to France in unlicensed transport and then put up on a campsite with money taken out of their wages for meals. When their contracts came to an end, the agency also withheld transport costs and other various charges from the final payroll. The workers’ final salaries were often not enough to even cover their trip back to Bulgaria. The network used this money and laundered it through properties in France.
Europol supported the investigation by facilitating secure information exchange, providing operational, analytical and intelligence support and deploying one analyst to support the operational actions in France. Europol funded several operational meetings and provided financial support for the exchange of experts for the on-the-spot investigations.
In 2010 the European Union set up a four-year Policy Cycle to ensure greater continuity in the fight against serious international and organised crime. In 2017 the Council of the EU decided to continue the EU Policy Cycle for the 2018 - 2021 period. It aims to tackle the most significant threats posed by organised and serious international crime to the EU. This is achieved by improving and strengthening cooperation between the relevant services of EU Member States, institutions and agencies, as well as non-EU countries and organisations, including the private sector where relevant. Trafficking of human beings is one of the priorities for the Policy Cycle.