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UK – Illegal gangmaster handed seven years in landmark case

10 December 2013

The Gangmasters Licensing Authority (GLA) welcomed a landmark court decision yesterday that saw a 40-year-old Norfolk man jailed for seven years for acting as an unlicensed gangmaster. Audrius Morkunas, a Lithuanian national is the first person ever to receive a custodial sentence in the UK for an offence under the Gangmasters Licensing Act.

He admitted the charge at an earlier hearing at Norwich Crown Court; as well as other offences for possessing a document (a GLA licence) belonging to another person and conspiring to money laundering. He had denied two further offences of possession of an offensive weapon and assault causing actual bodily harm but was found guilty of both after a trial earlier this year.

The defendant received seven years for acting as a gangmaster without a licence, a seven year sentence for money laundering, and 18 months for the assault. All terms received will run concurrently.

GLA Chief Executive Paul Broadbent said: “I am delighted that today we have seen a sentence imposed that fits the crime. This man exploited vulnerable workers to despicable levels over a prolonged period. That exploitation was deliberate and based on fear, intimidation and greed.”

“I hope this result heralds a new approach from the courts to impose stiffer sentences and sends out a clear warning to illegal gangmasters who flout the law that they will be relentlessly pursued, prosecuted and spend significant periods of time in jail,” he added.  

Mr Morkunas built up an organised crime group and was responsible for placing a large number of vulnerable people from Lithuania into substandard accommodation that he controlled and sub-let to them.

He demanded rent of £50 per person per week and charged £400 for finding them work in local GLA sector industries; such as agriculture and chicken processing. He also charged each worker £5 per day for transport he provided.   

Mr Morkunas displayed aggression and used violence to control many of the workers. The assault charge resulted from him beating a worker with an iron bar – a crime that was captured on CCTV.

He also controlled the bank accounts that workers opened, as well as taking control of many of their identity documents, including passports and driving licences. The workers invariably built up a ‘debt’ to Mr Morkunas that he used to exploit and control them.

The investigation, which began in February 2011, saw Mr Morkunas arrested in a joint operation with Norfolk Constabulary in June 2012. He acted as a gangmaster without the necessary licence between January 2009 and September 2012. Between June 2010 and September 2012 he traded using a copy of a licence belonging to another company.

A number of workers involved in the case have now been employed directly by the farms, while others have found employment with reputable labour providers in different parts of the country.

 A spokesman for Norfolk Constabulary’s Economic Crime Unit said: “This was a complex and sophisticated operation. Morkunas had put a great deal of ground-work into setting up this far-reaching organised crime group. He is a violent and controlling individual and it’s pleasing to see him convicted.”

“The following close liaison, co-operation and team work that took place between Norfolk Constabulary and the GLA in terms of gathering evidence was critical in securing this conviction and sentence. Consequently, such productive information-sharing between the two agencies has prompted his organised crime group to be taken to pieces and brings an end to many months of misery to those workers he exploited and controlled,” the spokesman stated.  

Paul Broadbent added: “Morkunas’s methods involved charging workers for finding them an ‘honest job for a decent wage’ - the promise of a better life – but his promises were never realised.”

“The stark reality was he drove workers into debt and forced them to work for him illegally to pay it off. He controlled their bank accounts and took possession of their passports and other forms of identification, skimming fees from their meagre wages to pay for the sub-standard accommodation and transport he also provided.”

“Morkunas sought to control his workers in many different ways – psychologically, through debt and worse still by violence and threats. I take great satisfaction from the fact that these workers are now free from his aggression and exploitation and that our investigation has resulted in a substantial custodial sentence,” Mr Broadbent concluded. 

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