HMA v Vojtech Gombar & Others

At the High Court in Edinburgh today (8 November 2019) Lord Beckett sentenced Vojtech Gombar; Anil Raj Wagle; Jana Sandorova; and Rastislav Adam to imprisonment after the offenders were convicted of taking part in human trafficking and exploitation.

On sentencing, Lord Beckett made the following statement in court: 

“I start by acknowledging that the community in Scotland and this Court owes considerable gratitude to the judicial system of Slovakia for invaluable international co-operation without which this case could not have been brought to trial.

I should acknowledge also the co-ordinated police work undertaken by police officers in Scotland, England, Ireland and Slovakia which led to this prosecution of very serious and organised crimes of human trafficking and exploitation which included sexual coercion.

Such crimes are notoriously difficult to escape from and complain about to the authorities.  However a number of young women have had the courage to do so and explained to the jury the awful things that were done to them. It is the policy of the law that sentencing for this kind of criminal conduct must make it clear to every vulnerable victim of exploitation that the criminal law will be enforced to protect them. Substantial and deterrent sentences will generally be required.

Such crimes are utterly repugnant. They involve the degradation of other humans, treating them as if they were objects or animals to be transported and sold for exploitation. In this case the court heard of the sale of women for the purpose of sham marriages which I infer were intended to circumvent immigration control. The court also heard of women being sexually exploited and coerced into prostitution. This was done to women who were pregnant in two instances, and for at least part of the time that it went on, those involved must have known of the fact of pregnancy. The women involved came from impoverished circumstances with little prospect of employment. They were induced to travel, accompanied by you Mr Gombar or your associates, and they were deceived into thinking that employment and a good life was awaiting them in this country. It was not. They spoke little or no English and were dependent on their traffickers. Once in Glasgow they were controlled, kept in situations of at least psychological confinement and in some instances physical confinement. Their identity cards were removed from them. All of this led most of them to feel entirely helpless, which allowed their exploitation to continue. You intended that this should be the position and brought it about in your selection of victims and the way that you treated them.

This was done for significant financial gain from which I infer that each of you benefited. It has plainly had a profound effect on the women that you trafficked and exploited. Not one of you has shown any insight into the suffering you caused and not one of you has expressed even a shred of remorse.

In considering what sentences would be appropriate, I have taken account of guidance from the appeal courts of England and Scotland.

I should explain that whilst each of the charges of which you have been convicted is aggravated by a connection with serious and organised crime, the features which support that aggravation are inherent in the offences of which you were convicted and fall to be taken account of in fixing the appropriate sentence for the offences themselves. For that reason, and following appellate guidance, I am not going to increase sentence on account of the aggravations.

In each of your cases I have taken account of the contents of your social work report including the respective risk assessments. I have taken account of your personal circumstances. I have taken account of your respective ages and family circumstances and the absence of previous convictions. I have taken account of all of the points made in mitigation on your behalf. I have also considered the interval since the crimes were committed and since proceedings commenced.

For crimes of the gravity of those of which you have been convicted it is necessary to punish you, to seek to deter you and others from becoming involved in crimes of trafficking and exploitation and to protect the public from you. The only suitable sentence for each of you is imprisonment.

VOJTECH GOMBAR

You have one conviction for attempted fraud, but it is of little importance in the context of the serious charges of which you have been found guilty. I take account of your age and what I have learned of your health from the report. I note however that you were well enough to be back working since you underwent surgery five years ago.

You were found guilty of charges 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7 and 8, under section 4 of the Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants etc) Act 2004, relating to arranging or facilitating the travel of women with intent to exploit them or believing that they would be exploited by someone else. The women were deceived to a greater or lesser extent and charge 4 involved the use of force.

You were found guilty also of charges 15 and 16, charges of sexual coercion under section 4 of the Sexual Offences (Scotland) Act 2009 which involved your coercing two of the women you trafficked to engage in prostitution.

In relation to four of the women you trafficked, two of whom were those featuring on charges 15 and 16, you were convicted under section 47 of the Criminal Justice and Licensing (Scotland) Act 2010 of holding them in slavery or servitude and requiring them to perform forced or compulsory labour; charges 18, 19, 20 and 21. You were involved in the sale of women to others whom you knew would exploit them. In some cases when those arrangements broke down you directly exploited them. You organised others to carry out functions on your behalf, including one of the women that you trafficked and exploited.

One of the women whom you brought to this country, and I refer to charge 5 and charge 20, seemed to have a very limited understanding of her situation which must have been obvious to you but still you trafficked and exploited her. Normal human decency would have caused you to refrain from removing such a vulnerable young woman from her home but for you her extreme vulnerability was an asset.

The evidence showed that you were callous and indifferent to the wellbeing of those you exploited. One stark example was illustrated when, after intervention by border officers, you abandoned the complainer on charge 8 in France leaving her with no money and no belongings to find her own way back to Slovakia.

I take account of the number of women involved, their general vulnerability, the dreadful experiences to which you exposed them, your central involvement in the scheme as a whole and your obvious financial benefit.

I will impose one sentence for all of the crimes which you committed.

You will go to prison for 12 years, backdated to 11 October when you were remanded in custody.

ANIL RAJ WAGLE

You have no previous convictions. I note the relatively short intervals of time over which your offences were committed and have taken that into account.

You were found guilty of charges 6, 12, 22 and 23. Charges 6, 12 and 22 relate to your involvement in facilitating the travel of one woman for the purposes of exploitation and sexual exploitation in the form of prostitution on charge 12. A point came when you learned that the complainer was pregnant but the exploitation continued. You sought to make her available to other men. When you could no longer control her you sought to sell her to her own husband, to whom you explained that you had paid for her. When she sought to resist what was going on you kept her locked in your flat until she managed to escape through a window only to fall back into the clutches of those who sold her and who then continued to exploit her.

Charge 23 involved you holding two women whose identities are unknown in circumstances of slavery or servitude and offering to sell them, and selling at least one of them.  Your attitude to all of your victims was callous and contemptuous. All of this was done for financial gain which appears to have been considerable. Your conduct was cynical and despicable.

You will go to prison for 8 years and 6 months, backdated to 11 October.

JANA SANDOROVA

You have no previous convictions and I note that you are the mother of five children which I take into account. I recognise that this is a desperate situation for them, but one which you and your partner brought about. You showed little regard for the welfare of your children when causing and allowing prostitution to go on under your roof.

You were found guilty of charges 6, 12, 15, 17, 18 and 21. You allowed your house to be used for the exploitation and prostitution of two women, one of whom, the complainer on charges 6, 12, 17 and 21, was your cousin whom you must have learned was pregnant. Rather than protecting her you bought her clothes of a kind which were intended to attract clients. You were involved, along with your partner, in brazenly selling her to Mr Wagle in a public street. When that didn’t work out you took her back into your home and caused her to engage in prostitution from which you profited. Your other victim was also pregnant and that must have become apparent to you at some stage and yet you allowed the situation to continue.

Whilst I consider that you were integral to what went on, your involvement appears to have been somewhat less active than your co-accused.

You will go to prison for 7 years, backdated to 11 October.

RASTISLAV ADAM

You have no previous convictions and you are the father of five children which I take into account.

You were found guilty of charges 5, 6, 12, 15, 17, 18, 21. I have commented on the particular vulnerability of the complainer on charge 5 which must have been obvious to you as you were engaged in bringing her to this country.

You were also involved in ensuring that the complainer on charges 6, 12, 17 and 21 was brought to your home in Glasgow where she was exploited, then sold and then compelled to engage in prostitution. You were involved in all of this. You were also involved on charges 15 and 18 and you must have known of that complainer’s pregnancy at least by the end of her time when you were involved with her and yet you arranged for men to use her as a prostitute from which you profited.

You will go to prison for 9 years, backdated to 11 October.

Each of you has been convicted of sexual offences within the meaning of the Sexual Offences Act 2003 and you will be subject to notification requirements indefinitely.

In each of your cases I am satisfied that the statutory criteria are met and that it is necessary and appropriate to make a trafficking exploitation prevention order on the conditions you have accepted. It will last for five years and will commence when you are released from prison."