A Boston couple have been stripped of their GLA licences by an appeal judge after failing to provide a credible explanation for repeated financial dealings with a known unlicensed criminal gangmaster.
Natalija and Janis Vincukova, of Fenside Road, were investigated as part of Operation Endeavour – a large-scale multi-agency initiative to clamp down on worker exploitation carried out by the GLA, Cambridgeshire Constabulary and others.
As a result of that operation, Ivars Mezals, of Wisbech, was jailed for 18 months for operating as a gangmaster without a licence. He had housed and subjected a number of field workers to forced labour in the Fenland area of Cambridgeshire, typically paying them less than £20 per week.
The court was told that subsequent enquiries connected workers staying in Mezals’ properties to NV Gangwork, based in Market Place, Boston.
Ultimately, this resulted in the licences for companies NV Gangwork and JN Gangwork – businesses belonging to the Vincukovas – being revoked in October 2014 on the grounds they were not ‘fit and proper’ to hold them.
Both decisions were appealed along with another one to refuse a licence application for a separate company called NV Gangwork Ltd, which had been set up just prior to the revocations.
However, at the Tribunals Court in Nottingham yesterday (Thursday), presiding Employment Judge Peter Britton upheld all three of the GLA’s licensing decisions and ordered that both NV Gangwork and JN Gangwork cease trading by March 24.
GLA Head of Licensing Charlotte Woodliffe said: “Our investigations into the Vincukovas uncovered a trail of deceit woven through a tale that never seemed to hang together.
“They were evasive throughout our dealings with them and to this day have never provided a plausible explanation for why they embarked on a course of repeated financial dealings and more than 600 phone calls with an unlicensed gangmaster who was imprisoned for his crimes.
“While this has taken a while to conclude I am pleased the court confirmed that our decision to prevent them from operating in the GLA sector was the right one.”
Earlier the court had heard that repeated payments had been made from the company bank account of NV Gangwork to Mr Mezals.
At various points in the proceedings, payments of between £2,000 and £3,000 were described by the appellants as Mr Mezals’ weekly wages for tractor driving or flower picking, and repayments for a £25,000 loan, which he had handed over to Mr Vincukova in £20 notes on a petrol station forecourt.
Judge Britton went on to say that the amount of money that passed between the Vincukovas and Mezals was – using a conservative estimate – at least £50,000. He added that the ‘loan story’ did not ‘provide a satisfactory explanation’.
“I have a feeling this is all very smelly,” concluded the judge. “Why would you lend someone £25,000 – in cash?”
“If it were legitimate sums of money then there would be no reason to do that. Mezals would not have had to do that either. He did not want that money showing up on the radar.”
Earlier, Adrian Reynolds, representing the GLA, said: “The circumstantial evidence that he [Mezals] was acting as an unlicensed gangmaster in relation to her [Mrs Vincukova] is absolutely overwhelming.”
Speaking of the connection between the Vincukovas and Mezals Judge Britton said the full story would probably never be known.
“This whole thing is so full of holes that it begs questions as to the nature of this relationship, which I could logically draw as being a corrupt one,” he said.
And he added he considered that Mrs Vincukova’s credibility was ‘shot’.
“When I come to decide whether the claimant is a fit and proper person I must take into account that I find she has not told the truth before me,” he said.
“How then can I conclude that she is ‘fit and proper’ to hold a gangmaster’s licence?”