Members of a Romanian gipsy gang accused of sneaking almost 200 children into Britain to beg and steal on the streets have been charged with a string of crimes in Romania.
Nicknamed ‘modern day Fagins’, by the UK media, the 26 men − all Roma gipsies − face a bundle of charges including child trafficking, money laundering, belonging to an organised crime group and carrying illegal firearms.
Romanian police arrested them in April during an armed raid by 300 officers in the dirt-poor town of Tanderai, a gang-heartland in the south.
Besides huge wedges of cash, police found a frightening stash of weapons including AK47 machine guns, hunting rifles, knives, pistols, and gas bombs. They also found luxury cars, jewellery and hundreds of fake British passports and other false papers used to help them take the children from Romania to Britain.
The gang members were officially charged on Friday in the Romanian town of Harghita. The prosecutor said that they sent at least 181 children to Britain during the past three years. According to court papers, they took children from all over the eastern European country and preferred those with physical disabilities
Parents were either talked into giving up their children or bribed with the promise of getting a slice of the children’s' future 'earnings'.
Desperate children can make their criminal masters as much as £100,000 a year from begging on Britain's streets, British police estimate.
But the children, under constant watch of one or more of the gang, kept none of the money they made from doing things such as begging, washing windscreens, pickpocketing and shoplifting.
The police investigation in Romania started after British police tipped off their Romanian colleagues about a Roma gipsy 'crime wave' that started around the time Romania joined the European Union.
'The children don’t have any access to education and never get any real chance to fit into normal society,' said Romanian child-trafficking expert Norbert Ceipek.
'But most of the families, and even the children, do not feel they are being victimised,’ he told the Daily Mail newspaper.
'What is happening to them is the only thing they’ve known. The whole system of values is turned upside down: a child is appreciated and loved if it earns money by stealing, whereas sending it to school or integrating it into society is seen as a waste of time and money.'
The gang will face trial in Romania later this year.