Callous begging rackets broken

Police in Athens said on Thursday that they were questioning the three suspected leaders of a begging ring that has been exploiting migrants – some minors, others pregnant or mentally handicapped women.

According to police, the suspects – a 61-year-old ethnic Greek man from Albania, a 70-year-old Greek man and the latter?s 60-year-old Bulgarian wife – had been forcing children aged 9 to 14 and women, mostly Romanians and Bulgarians, to beg on street corners and at traffic lights and hand over the bulk of their proceeds.

The youngsters were forced to play accordions, flutes or other instruments on their outings and some were believed to have been subjected to beatings whenever their takings were deemed to be unsatisfactory.

The ring members are also alleged to have charged each of their victims 5 euros each as daily rent to live in a dingy apartment block on central Themistocleous Street. The ring members lived in the same block so that they could keep an eye on the activities of their victims, police said.

Officers detained 20 people following a raid on the building. Half of them were minors. The others were women aged between 20 and 51, some pregnant, others mentally disabled.

Police also raided another building on Menandrou Street after observing that several suspected victims had been transferred there from the building on Themistocleous Street. Fifteen people were arrested in the raid. Police also confiscated 3,293 euros, believed to be the group?s takings.

Earlier this week, police arrested two Bulgarian nationals thought to have been running a similar racket involving disabled beggars.

The suspects are alleged to have kept their victims hostage in an apartment on another central street, Michail Voda, and to have removed their artificial limbs at night so that they could not attempt to escape. Officers released four victims following a raid on the Michail Voda Street apartment.

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