Bucharest: Dozens of vulnerable men and boys were kidnapped, chained up, whipped, fed scraps of food and forced into manual labour or fighting for entertainment over an eight-year period in rural southern Romania, prosecutors said on Wednesday.
Three men and two boys aged 10-12 were found chained up and were rescued by police on Wednesday in the mountain town of Berevoiesti during searches at the homes of suspects members of an extended Roma family.
Some 160 police and prosecutors took part in the raid on Wednesday on the town, some 150 kilometers (95 miles) northwest of Bucharest.
Organized crime prosecutors said the investigation involved some 90 suspects who they say exploited around 40 people with physical and mental disabilities or who were very poor, and made them log wood, beg or look after animals.
A statement said some victims were snatched from railway and bus stations, outside churches or even from their own homes and transported to private homes by members of the group.
Some of them performed domestic chores while others were made to transport and sell wood that was the product of illegal logging.
It said the captives were sometimes held in chains, whipped, beaten and threatened, refused food or made to eat off the ground, and coerced into fighting each other for entertainment.
They were locked up overnight to prevent them escaping. Some were stripped naked and doused with hot or cold water.
There are suspicions some were raped or sexually abused. Valentin Preoteasa, chief prosecutor at the Pitesti office, called the case unprecedented. "It is shocking to hear this in the 21st century," he told The Associated Press by telephone, adding he had immediately poured his office's resources into the probe.
"All five prosecutors in the Pitesti office are working on the case," together with police officers, he said.
Preoteasa said the victims have been housed in centers and given food, showers and beds. He could not say how many were children.
He said investigators have located about 30 suspects, including women, and are in the process of questioning them.
Police carrying out the searches confiscated 228,000 lei (USD 56,300), about one kilogram (2.2 pounds) of gold, nine chainsaws and three trucks that they said were used in the criminal activity.