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Saturday, 29 April, 2000, 21:44 GMT 22:44 UK
Deaf-mute smugglers seized
French police
French police exposed the smuggling ring
French police have charged 28 people from an international smuggling ring with exploiting illegal deaf mute immigrants from Eastern Europe.

The immigrants were illegally brought into France and forced to work for the network.

The smugglers, who are deaf mutes themselves, were captured in a swoop across towns and cities across France and include the gang's leaders.

The scam has been operating since last June.

Threat of violence

Deaf mutes from Russia, Ukraine, Moldova and Slovenia were lured to major French cities with offers of work and residence permits.

But when they arrived in France, the promises of a job and working papers faded to nothing.

They were then forced under the threat of violence to work for the network once their vistors' visas expired.

The police said they had recovered around $140,000 of profits made by the network from the immigrants' sales of keychains and other trinkets to people who took pity on them.

Correspondents say the police are now faced with a longer-than-usual investigation into the gang's activities because they lack translators who are expert in both the relevant Slavonic languages and sign language.

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