Carabinieri police during the operation against the two companies | Photo: ARCHIVIO/ANSA
Carabinieri police during the operation against the two companies | Photo: ARCHIVIO/ANSA

Carabinieri police have arrested the owners of two agricultural companies in southern Italy. The arrests were carried out as part of a sweeping operation against the 'caporalato' gangmaster system, investigative sources said.

Prosecutors in the southern Italian city of Foggia have issued arrest warrants against three entrepreneurs and three alleged gangmasters who are accused of exploiting 45 farm workers. They allegedly forced the migrant workers to toil for more than 10 hours a day for as little as €3 an hour.

The three owners of two farm companies -- ''Perugini libero'' in Foggia and ''Ortofrutta De Martino'' in Zapponeta near Foggia -- were arrested on February 10.

Police are still looking for the alleged gangmasters, two Moroccans and a Guinean national, who are believed to have fled to their respective home countries. Gangmasters are criminal recruiters who control and exploit workers.

Two investigations

The entrepreneurs have been identified as Libero Perugini, 38, who is in jail, as well as Giovanni Capocchiano and Natale De Martino, both 66, who have been placed under house arrest.

The three men did not have a police record prior to their arrest, investigators said. An international arrest warrant will soon be issued against the three alleged gangmasters who worked for them, investigative sources said.

The first investigation that led to the police operation this week started in 2017 after an employee of the company in Zapponeta filed a complaint.

A second investigation on the farm in Foggia kicked off in the summer of 2019 when a unionist reported the exploitation to the authorities.

Degrading working conditions

Carabinieri police found out that 45 people worked for the two companies -- 15 for Perugini and 30 for Ortofrutta -- mainly African and Albanian migrants.

Although all of them were legally employed, they were forced to work in dire conditions, according to investigative sources. African migrants were paid between €3.5 and €4 an hour while Albanian workers earned €6 an hour.

Some farm workers were forced to sleep in camper vans or huts without a bathroom and had to pay ''15 euros a month'' for the accommodation, investigators said.

The farmhands were recruited in the illegal migrant camp of Borgo Mezzanotte near Foggia and in a former milk factory in Via Manfredoni on the outskirts of the Puglia, according to investigators.

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