Four Latvian men have today been found guilty of being orchestrating an international money laundering ring from West Lothian.
At Edinburgh Sheriff Court Hardijs Langsteins, 37, from Salford, Maris Kursis, 30, from Falkirk, Arvids Civkors, 30, from Edinburgh and 38-year-old Aivars Dzagarjans from Forth in South Lanarkshire were all found guilty of the crimes.
A Police Scotland investigation into this crime group was launched in April 2016, when it was established that they were responsible for bringing Latvian nationals into the UK and housing them within crowded accommodation within several addresses in West Lothian.
The victims believed they would be offered employment, usually within a local warehouse in Bathgate, where Civkors worked. Some victims were forced to surrender their wages to the group, others were forced under duress to open bank accounts which were then used for money laundering and fraud by the crime group.
All four were arrested and subsequently charged on 2nd December 2016.
Speaking following today’s verdict, Detective Chief Inspector Stephen Healy said: “All four of these men subjected their victims to threats, intimidation and coercion, leaving them in fear for their safety and believing that they were in debt to the group, forcing them to hand over their bank accounts in order to repay them. The group then committed fraud and laundered the proceeds of these crimes through the accounts.
“This group actively targeted vulnerable Latvian nationals looking to come to the UK for a better life and placed them in crowded and squalid conditions, exploiting them for profit.
“The inquiry team used all means at their disposal to dismantle this crime group and bring them to justice, working closely with various partners including Crown Office and Procurator Fiscals Department, The National Crime Agency, The National Human Trafficking Unit, Europol, The Latvian Police, Migrant Help and West Lothian Council.”
Det Chf Insp Healy also thanked all those who testified against Langsteins, Kursis, Dzagarjan and Civkors as it was their evidence that helped secure their convictions, adding: “Police Scotland is committed to protecting vulnerable people from harm and investigate all reports of human trafficking with the utmost seriousness to bring perpetrators to justice and ensure victims are appropriately supported.”
The men had all pled not guilty to the offences, which took place between June 20, 2012, and December 2, 2016.
But on the 14th week of a trial at Edinburgh Sheriff Court, the men were found guilty of being connected to serious organised crime in Scotland, England and Latvia, involving money laundering and fraud.
The men had encouraged people from Latvia to come to the UK by offering to provide their travel, accommodation and employment.
But once the people arrived in the UK, they were told they were “in debt” to the gang.
The victims were forced to open bank accounts in their own names, hand over their bank accounts and bank cards and were sent to work in various locations throughout the UK.
Refusal to co-operate met with threats of violence and assaults.
On the fourth day of their deliberation, the jury of nine women and six men today found all the accused guilty by a majority.
The men’s defence agents asked that as reports would have to be prepared, their clients, who had been on bail for the duration of the trial, should be allowed to continue to be bailed.
Sheriff Thomas Welsh QC told the men that each of them had been convicted of very serious offences involving organised crime and he was not persuaded to grant bail. All four were remanded in custody for reports to be prepared. The case will call again on December 4.
Sheriff Welsh thanked the jury for the time they had taken to attend the proceedings. It had been an unusual case, he said, lasting for a long time. He told them it had been “an important decision for this country” and that they had “played a very important part in public service”.
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