ANKARA

At least 38 people were arrested in an operation targeting a criminal network exploiting migrant workers, the European Union Agency for Law Enforcement Cooperation (Europol) said on Thursday.

A total of 28 people were nabbed in France, seven in Moldova, and three in Romania in a joint operation by authorities of the three countries, according to Europol.

“The criminal group, organized by a Romanian national living in France, smuggled at least 40 Moldovan nationals to exploit them in the construction business in France,” the agency said in a statement.

The network gave the migrants fake Romanian IDs and drivers licenses, while keeping their real passports as a guarantee, said Europol.

“Most of the smuggled individuals had a low level of education and therefore were more vulnerable to exploitation,” read the statement.

“They worked 55 hours a week for €60 [$74] a day. Large construction and renovation companies were also involved in the criminal scheme. This activity was extremely lucrative, with illegal profits estimated at almost €14 million [$17 million].” the statement said.

The suspects used eight shell companies, most of them based in France, to launder their criminal assets, according to Europol.

As part of the operation, 51 locations – 17 in France, 14 in Romania, and 20 in Moldova – were searched, the agency said.

Along with €100,000 [$122,000] in cash, 19 vehicles, including 15 high-end cars and two jet skis, weapons and phones were seized, while 11 bank accounts have been frozen, it added.

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