Gangmaster guilty of pounds 5m racket

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A UKRAINIAN asylum-seeker who came to Britain penniless and his shoes held together with elastic bands was convicted yesterday of operating a pounds 5m gangmaster operation.

Victor Solomka is thought to have run one of the largest illegal immigration rackets in the UK, supplying cheap labour mainly to fish factories in Scotland. At the height of his operation, he was making more than pounds 13,000 a week and laundered the massive illegal profits through sham companies to avoid detection.

While than 700 east European workers were living in cramped accommodation, Solomka, 44, was living in a pounds 250,000 home in King's Lynn, Norfolk, and driving a Mercedes. He was found guilty yesterday by a jury at King's Lynn Crown Court of conspiracy to facilitate the commission of breaches of immigration law and money laundering, which each carry a 14-year jail term. He will be sentenced next Friday and crown prosecutors intended to apply to confiscate his money and assets.

He arrived in Britain in February 2000 on a lorry from his native Ukraine, where he had owned a successful sausage factory. He applied for asylum on the grounds of persecution from local political rivals in the Ukraine who he claimed burnt down his house. He was granted leave to remain in May 2003.

Within a year,he had set up three companies. His firms supplied labour to factories who paid pounds 6 to pounds 6.50 per hour for the workers. The wages the workers got from Solomka came to pounds 4.30 per hour and they had to pay pounds 40 for rent and pounds 10 for transport. Solomka worked with Alexander Pianzin, 39, a Russian immigrant living illegally in Fraserburgh, Scotland, who pleaded guilty at an earlier hearing to conspiracy to breach immigration law. Between 2001 and 2004, Solomka's three companies were paid about pounds 5m for supplying immigrant workers who came to the UK from countries including Russia, Ukraine, Latvia, Moldova and Lithuania.

Anyone who complained about the living conditions or 15 hour working days was threatened with violence. The court was told none of the workers had an automatic right to stay and many were provided with false Home Office documents which purported to grant them permission to remain.

But police found that of the 700 workers on the firm's books 429 had never been registered with the Home Office and only 86 had genuine national insurance numbers allowing them to work in the UK.

After, Detective Inspector Paul Cunningham, of Norfolk Police, said: "Victor Solomka is a man who made a personal fortune on the back of other people's misery. Those people, although they entered this country illegally the same way as Solomka, did so after being promised regular work and pay. What they encountered was a lifestyle of sheer hell. Any of them who complained or who wanted to move on were threatened with beatings by Solomka or one of his henchmen."

The detective added: "Their activities amount to nothing less than modern-day slavery."

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