Eight people are being charged with involvement in a human trafficking ring in Småland in southern Sweden. All of the defendants are men and seven of them are Bulgarian citizens. The eighth defendant is a Swedish citizen accused of helping the human traffickers. All eight denied any wrongdoing.
“We believe that the perpetrators took advantage of [the victims’] plight in Bulgaria. Their situation in Bulgaria was very poor and they were exploited by the perpetrators,” prosecutor Måns Biörklund said at a Friday press conference in Malmö.
Prosecutors allege that the Bulgarian victims were forced to beg nearly every day in Växjö. When beggars fell asleep on the street or failed to collect enough money, they were allegedly mistreated by their handlers. According to prosecutors, the abuse included the withholding of food.
The forced begging ring was in operation between January 2016 and December 2017 before being broken up by police through several arrests. Biörklund estimated that around two million kroner was transported from Sweden to Bulgaria during that time.
Some 60 people are thought to have been victims of the forced begging ring but only two-thirds of them have been formally identified. Thirteen victims are expected to testify when the case goes to trial later this autumn.
In a similar case in 2016, two Bulgarian brothers were sentenced to three years in prison for having “recruited, housed and exploited” five people who were drawn into a life of begging on the streets of Gothenburg