A procession welcoming migrants arriving in Genoa on June 2, 2019 | Photo: ANSA/Luca Zennaro
A procession welcoming migrants arriving in Genoa on June 2, 2019 | Photo: ANSA/Luca Zennaro

Police have arrested eight people and seized over €900,000 in assets in northwestern Italy. The suspects are accused of exploiting migrants workers building luxury yachts. Dozens of Bangladeshi workers were allegedly threatened, beaten, insulted and underpaid.

Financial police carried out an operation between La Spezia, Savona, Ancona, and Carrara in northwestern Italy on Tuesday that resulted in eight arrests.

The suspects were allegedly part of a gang that exploited 150 Bangladeshi workers. Investigators said that they were part of a system that had created "slaves" willing to do anything in order not to lose their jobs. The migrants were reportedly forced to work exhausting shifts in shipbuilding workplaces in La Spezia where luxury yachts were produced.

Among other things, the Bangladeshis had to work despite being ill and partially repay their salaries to the heads of the worksites.

Threatened, beaten, working 12 hour-shifts

Wiretaps, shadowing and tracing of bank operations enabled investigators to build a case against the alleged gang exploiting Bangladeshi migrants.

The investigation found that workers were threatened, beaten and forced to work at least 12 hours every day for €4 per hour.

Because they were afraid of losing their jobs, and thus their stay permits, the migrants covered up workplace accidents -- lying at the emergency room and claiming that they had hurt themselves in unlikely accidents at home.

Forced to work with fever, return salaries

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, the migrants were forced to go to work even with a fever, wiretaps found. In September, a cluster of infections was found in the shipbuilding yards among foreign workers living in La Spezia.

Wiretaps also found that threats and beatings were used to get them to hand over in cash a large part of their contracted salaries, which were apparently regular but with minimal social security contributions.

The eight suspects are an employment consultant from Ancona and seven worksite heads from the GS Painting company, to which large works were subcontracted out by the Sanlorenzo, Baglietto and Nuovi Cantieri Apuani shipyards.

The heads of the worksites allegedly threatened the workers as well, with statements such as "I'll kick you. I'll throw you off from the top of the ship."

The companies that own the shipyards are currently not considered to have been involved in the exploitation. Checks are being carried out at their worksites to ascertain whether they were in any way involved in the exploitation.


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