Authorities in Romania have formally detained 38 people on suspicion they took dozens of vulnerable men and boys as slaves, kidnapped them and chained them up, and forced them to work or fight each other for entertainment.
Organized crime prosecutors said Thursday suspects were questioned through the night after a raid Wednesday in a rural mountain town on the homes of suspects — members of an extended Roma family.
The investigation involves some 90 suspects who authorities say exploited around 65 people with physical and mental disabilities or who were very poor, making them log wood, beg or look after animals.
In the village of Gamacesti, there was uproar Thursday among Roma residents who said they were angry about the raid and accusations of slavery.
Speaking about the alleged victims, they claimed they were homeless people who had been given food and shelter in the village of 1,000.
One woman, who declined to give her name, told The Associated Press: “They were fed, they had money and they did not want to leave.”
But the mayor of the town of Berevoesti, which has administrative oversight for local villages including Gamacesti, said he was shocked by the findings.
“It was terrifying for me,” said Florin Bogdan Proca. “I didn’t know there were such heartless people in 2016. I didn’t know there could be slavery in 2016, people kept by force, maltreated.” He said he had alerted authorities about suspicions of slavery the previous year.
Local child protection spokeswoman Iuliana Matei said Thursday that two victims and 19 children of suspects have been placed in care centers.