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Last Updated: Thursday, 3 February, 2005, 17:33 GMT
Police hail gangmaster conviction
Victor Solomka
Victor Solomka appeared at King's Lynn Crown Court
Police have welcomed the conviction of a Ukrainian gangmaster who made millions supplying illegal workers to fish factories in north east Scotland.

Victor Solomka, 44, was found guilty of money laundering and aiding illegal immigration after a four-week trial. He will be sentenced next week.

Grampian Police said many employees had gone to Solomka in desperation.

"He exploited them mercilessly without concern or compassion," said Detective Chief Inspector Ian Japp.

Solomka, from King's Lynn, Norfolk, had denied the charges.

Elastic bands

However, King's Lynn Crown Court was told he had created a 5m firm using workers who entered the UK illegally from countries including Russia, Ukraine, Latvia and Lithuania.

When the Ukrainian arrived in Britain as an asylum seeker in 2000 he was so poor that he had elastic bands round his shoes.

But in just three years he had an expensive home in Norfolk, with Mercedes cars and four-wheel drive vehicles.

Many of those providing labour for Solomka were also his victims
Detective Chief Inspector Ian Japp
Grampian Police

His wealth came from agency businesses he ran from a distance - supplying immigrant workers to fish factories in places like Aberdeen, Alness and Fraserburgh.

Most of Solomka's workers were in Scotland illegally.

Mr Japp, who led the inquiry in the Grampian Police area, said Solomka had initially worked in the types of factory premises which he later supplied.

"He saw there was a shortage of legal labour to satisfy their requirements and embarked upon his illegal activities to exploit the situation for financial gain," he said.

He said Solomka's conviction followed "an extremely complicated investigation" which lasted more than a year.

False papers

The day of his downfall was 25 March last year, when officers from the Grampian force carried out a series of dawn raids at a number of addresses in Aberdeen and the Fraserburgh area.

Minibuses used to transport the workers were also stopped and a total of 38 people were taken into custody.

Officers uncovered false immigration papers, immigration stamps and passports.

Officers lead people from a house in Bucksburn, Aberdeen
Officers lead people from a house in Bucksburn, Aberdeen, during the raids

Solomka's home in King's Lynn was also raided and police began unravelling evidence about his army of more than 700 eastern European workers.

Mr Japp said: "Many of those providing labour for Solomka were also his victims.

"Either in this country illegally or with their permits about to expire, many of them went to him in desperation.

"In return he housed them in spartan, often overcrowded accommodation, charging them for rent, transport and in some cases food as well as taking a cut from their wages.

"He exploited them mercilessly without concern or compassion."

He said that the companies he supplied were also affected, as they had believed they were employing legal workers.

Mr Japp added: "There are many legal foreign migrant workers employed in the north east of Scotland and they are a welcome and valued part of our community."

Gangmaster watchdog

Illegal immigrants caught up in the scam were sent home.

The UK Government has taken steps aimed at making it harder for anyone to follow in Solomka's footsteps.

Last month it unveiled plans for a Gangmaster Licensing Authority which will act as a watchdog to regulate those who supply temporary workers to farming and fishing industry operations.

A is stopped and checked by officers during the raids
A van was stopped and checked as part of the raids

Solomka had denied conspiracy to facilitate the commission of breaches of immigration law and money laundering - charges which each carry a 14-year jail term.

The court heard that his companies supplied labour to factories who paid 6-6.50 per hour for the workers.

However, the workers themselves actually received about 4.30 per hour from Solomka.

Money was also taken from their wages to pay for rent and transport.

Solomka's right-hand man, Russian Alexander Pianzin, pleaded guilty at an earlier hearing to a charge of conspiracy to breach immigration law.

The 39-year-old lives in St Moden's Place, Fraserburgh.


BBC NEWS: VIDEO AND AUDIO
A former employee of Mr Solomka's speaks out



SEE ALSO:
Gangmaster guilty over 5m racket
03 Feb 05 |  Norfolk
'Gangmaster' raids on north east
25 Mar 04 |  Scotland


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