NANCY, France - Three Croatian Roma families traded women on the strength of their stealing skills and used children like conscripts to a criminal army, a French court was told Monday.
A total of 27 people aged between 19 and 55 are charged by the court in Nancy, eastern France, with offences ranging from criminal association to people trafficking in a trial taking place against the background of a highly charged debate over the treatment of Roma migrants from eastern Europe.
Gilles Weintz, the police officer who took charge of a complex probe into the families’ activities, said they were behind more than 100 robberies carried out in 2011 alone, in France and neighbouring parts of Belgium and Germany.
Most of them were allegedly carried out by children as young as 10.
“The burglaries were daily, all over Europe,” Weintz said. “They never stopped: for the children it was like a form of military service.”
Weintz said the prosecution would also present evidence of brides being bought then renounced when they did not bring in enough money.
The evidence against the families is based on the tapped phone calls of 120 suspects which the officer said had revealed a mafia-style structure in which clan chiefs were supported by a network of subordinate captains and lieutenants, who in turn ran the children at the bottom of the pyramid.
“Some of what we discovered was particularly shocking, like the father who asked his 12-year-old daughter to hide a stolen watch worth 80,000 euros in her rectum because he knew the police would not do body searches on minors.”
The people trafficking charges related to the alleged purchase of wives for up to 180,000 euros each.
“The better they were at stealing, the higher the price was,” Weintz added. “Young looking women also commanded higher prices because they had a better chance of passing themselves off as minors.”