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Four guilty of trafficking Slovakian women into Scotland

Eight women were forced into sham marriages, slavery and prostitution in Glasgow.

By STV News

Published 11 Oct 2019.

Four people have been convicted for their part in trafficking Slovakian women to Scotland and forcing them into sham marriages, slavery or prostitution.

Vojtech Gombar, 61, Anil Wagle, 37, Jana Sandorova, 28, and Ratislav Adam, 31, were found guilty of charges involving eight women after a trial at the High Court in Glasgow.

One of the women was sold for £10,000 outside a Primark store in Argyle Street, Glasgow, in front of unsuspecting shoppers.

Others were forced into prostitution and were held in slavery in flats in the city's Govanhill.

Sentencing was deferred until November and the four were remanded in custody.

Sandrova's lawyer asked the judge to consider granting bail to the mother of five and told the court her children were unaware of proceedings, however the bid was rejected by Lord Beckett.

After the verdicts were delivered following five days of jury deliberations, Police Scotland hailed the bravery of the victims for coming forward.

Detective Inspector Steven McMillan said: "There is no doubt that the traffickers in this case were brazen about their actions.

"One of the victims was sold outside a shop in Glasgow for £10,000 in plain sight of people passing.

"The bravery of the women is to be commended. They were left traumatised by their experiences but they gave evidence at a trial of their abusers.

"The traffickers in this case all came from the same Roma community within Slovakia.

"Many of them would have know their victims, known their families and would have known how vulnerable they were. Ultimately these were young women who were looking for a better life for themselves and their families."

Five of the women were brought over for arranged marriages to Pakistani men. Some of the women - though not all - were forced into prostitution.

One was turned back at Calais by UK Border Force officers. She had no possessions or money and was accompanied by ringleader Gombar, who had two suitcases containing his possessions. He abandoned her at the ferry port.

All the women had come to Scotland with the promise of a better life and a job, but jurors heard the harrowing stories of vulnerable victims who arrived here penniless, with no possessions and only the clothes they were wearing.

Their ID cards, which could have helped them to flee back home were snatched.

The women - who did not speak any English - were watched and never allowed out on their own.

The horrific crimes only came to light after one brave woman managed to escape and run to a shop in the southside of the city for help.

She spoke only Roma and Slovakian - but, the shopkeeper - who did not understand her - phoned police.

The officers asked two young girls in the store to help with translation and managed to work out that Gombar had her ID card.

The document was found in Gombar's flat in the city's Allison Street, sparking a major investigation.

It was Gombar - along with accomplices in Slovakia - who found the women and brought them to the UK.

Prosecutor Kath Harper said: "Vojtech Gombar shows a startlingly clear, compelling and powerful pattern of behaviour in recruiting, transporting and exploiting these women.

"He exploited them by either forcing them into marriage with virtual strangers from which he benefited financially and/ or forcing them into prostitution from which he and his associates benefited."

The court heard that one of the women was forced to have sex with two or three men Pakistani men in a day for at least eight months.

Ms Harper said: "Her autonomy was completely stripped from her and her body became nothing but a vehicle for Gombar and others to make money.

"It is perhaps hard to imagine a more callous and uncaring way to treat another human being."

Sandorova and Adam were Gombar's step-daughter and her partner. Wagle, from Nepal, became involved initially because he wanted to buy a bride.

The woman he 'bought' claimed he raped her although he was not charged with that offence.

There was evidence from phone messages that he was trying to make money selling women to other men.

One woman told of how Sandorova gave her a short skirt and 'sexy' clothing so she would look more provocative and make money from prostitution.

Another victim overheard a conversation between Adam and Gombar.

She told the court: "I believe he was involved in a similar thing to what Vojtech Gombar was doing, like taking girls and so on.

"At the time he had no girls, however I heard him say he be doing the same thing as Gombar, according to what I heard he was planning to get girls for sale."

Ms Harper said: "Ratislav Adam was acting along with Gombar in controlling one woman and keeping her in servitude, if not slavery. He sold a woman in the city centre of Glasgow along with Jana Sandorova to Anil Wagle.

"After varying amounts of time the women did get away, but it was rarely anything to do with the accused."

The charges the four was guilty of included intent to exploit women, holding some in slavery or servitude as well as causing victims to work as prostitutes.

Lord Beckett heaped praise on the Slovakian authorities in helping get justice in Scotland.

He said: "Without the invaluable, international co-operation this trial could not have taken place.

"Their efforts has allowed justice to be done in relation to very serious and damaging criminal conduct."

Detective superintendent Fil Capaldi, head of Police Scotland's National Human Trafficking Unit, said: "This detailed and complex investigation into a Slovakian Organised Crime Group spanned UK and international jurisdictions.

"Throughout, we worked closely with other UK forces, Europol, Eurojust and the Slovak Police Force, without whom we wouldn't have been able to ensure that those involved faced justice here in Scotland.

"Human trafficking is an insidious crime. This crime group exploited vulnerable women using violence, threats and false promises all for financial gain without a single thought for the suffering and terror these women had to endure.

"Yet those women bravely spoke out both in Scotland and Slovakia and I hope that today's verdict provides closure, so they can now move on in some way and rebuild their lives.

"Police Scotland will pursue traffickers relentlessly. We will continue to work with our network of contacts in the UK, with international law enforcement and other agencies to rid our country of trafficking and all forms of exploitation."

Georgios Raskos, head of Europol's Analysis Project on Human Trafficking, said: "Trafficking in human beings has for too long been perceived as a high-profit, low-risk activity.

"This perception has to change. This action with Police Scotland and Slovakia sends a clear message that Europol and its partners are determined to bring to justice criminals who think they can exploit people for profit.

"Complex operations like this across jurisdictions underline the need for cross-border collaboration between law enforcement and all stakeholders to ensure that together we can enhance our prevention, protection and prosecution efforts.

"Europol strongly supports EU Member States' investigations in this area, and we will continue our efforts in fighting this crime, not only to fight the offenders, but to return to freedom all those who have suffered as victims."

Slovak police officers from the country's National Unit for Combating Illegal Migration of the Border also worked on the investigation.

Support for the victims in Scotland was provided by Trafficking Awareness Raising Alliance (TARA)

Bronagh Andrew, operations manager at TARA, said: "The sad truth is people are being trafficked from all over the world to meet the demands of the global sex industry.

"The sad truth is people are being trafficked from all over the world to meet the demands of the global sex industry.

"Those who buy sex must also share responsibility as they fuel the demand the traffickers feed off. The suffering of the women who are bought and sold for sex will be barely even a consideration for the traffickers and their customers, if at all.

"Raising awareness of this appalling industry is vital to disrupt the criminals and assist the authorities in tackling this problem.

"This case gives a clear message to traffickers - and will hopefully give women the confidence and belief that they will be helped and they will be supported."