French police stop deaf-mute begging swindle

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The Independent Online

French police have broken up a racket that was smuggling deaf-mutes into France from Eastern Europe and making £200,000 a month from them begging on trains and in restaurants.

French police have broken up a racket that was smuggling deaf-mutes into France from Eastern Europe and making £200,000 a month from them begging on trains and in restaurants.

Up to 400 young deaf-mutes are believed to have been tricked into coming to France from Ukraine, Moldova, Russia and Romania. They were promised papers and jobs but found themselves at the mercy of a group of Ukrainians who are themselves deaf-mutes. They had to take part in systematic begging in exchange for key-chains and pens. Almost all proceeds went to the alleged organisers of the racket, six of whom appeared before an investigating judge on Saturday. Thirty people have been arrested in police raids in the Paris area and other cities.

Police say the operation bore many resemblances to Eastern European prostitution rings that have emerged in many Western European countries. The International Organisation for Migration believes up to 1 million women and girls from the former Soviet bloc are now prostitutes in Western Europe.

Like the girls exploited by these rings, the deaf-mutes were lured with the promise of jobs and work permits in France. When they arrived they found they were illegal immigrants, at the mercy of the people who brought them.

A Russian-speaking French lawyer, Jean-Louis Dureau, represented a young Ukrainian deaf-mute arrested near Toulouse in February. He was found with three boxes of trinkets and Fr40,000 (£4,000) in cash.

"He broke down and explained the money had to go to 'the house'," Mr Dureau said. "He said someone in Paris, very tough, very wicked, took all the money. He also gave the name of someone called Gros Pif (Big nose) who came to France from Israel from time to time by plane. Most of all, he was desperate not to go back to the Ukraine."

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