Man wanted internationally for selling fake tracksuits escaped slavery by fleeing to Leeds
A man wanted under international arrest has told how he was trafficked to Spain and forced into slavery before escaping his captors and fleeing to Leeds.
Marian Ion, 35, grew up in Romania and following the death of his parents moved from orphanage to orphanage until he reached the age of 21.
He was homeless for several months before he started working for a traveller family in 2013.
Mr Ion was forced to work for free and assaulted by a man he calls "Vasi".
He said: "I started working for Vasi as I was homeless and desperate in Romania.
"Vasi knew of my background and he knew he could exploit me. Before I started working for him he took my identity card stating that he did not know who I was and as I was going to be around his family living in his house he needed some form of assurance.
“I didn’t hesitate in giving him it because I was so constrained by my circumstances that I had no other choice.
"But, I soon realised that I was living at Vasi’s mercy and had no option but to carry out whatever was asked of me. On one occasion he came to me drunk and assaulted me very badly. I couldn’t escape as he had my ID card and I thought he would kill me if I tried to run away.”
He said: “I had no idea what Vasi did for a living but I knew that he bought and sold goods in Bulgaria.
"One morning his wife asked me to accompany her and Vasi’s nephew in their car to the border of Bulgaria. I was taken into a building where there were boxes of items and Vasi asked me to sign a document which was in Bulgarian.
"I was wary because I had no idea what I was signing but Vasi said that I was merely signing something as a witness. I signed the document because I was scared of him and following this Vasi and the other man who was doing the deal with him began to laugh hysterically and referred to me as ‘boss’.”
Unbeknown to Mr Ion, he had signed his name on documentation stating that he was the owner of the fake goods - in this case counterfeit tracksuits.
The following year "Vasi" told Mr Ion that he had to accompany him to Tenerife where he had a job for him in construction.
"I didn't want to go, but he told me I had to, and I was too scared to turn him down," Mr Ion said.
"When we arrived at the house there everybody had a bed, apart from me. I had to sleep on pieces of cardboard on the floor in the kitchen.
"On the night we arrived, Vasi's brother pointed to a placard and said 'let's make him an ID card'. He was pointing to a placard which was then given to me to use to beg.
"I felt angry and annoyed because I was being duped into coming to Tenerife under the impression that I had a job lined up, but instead it had become clear that I was recruited to beg for Vasi and his family."
Mr Ion begged every day for free months and had the money he managed to get taken away from him every day.
The following day, Mr Ion was given a rare day off from begging on the streets and was allowed to stay at home.
He managed to find his ID and fled immediately.
Mr Ion managed to get some work as a security guard for a few months
With the help of a woman he met online, Mr Ion managed to get a flight to the UK, but was arrested as soon as his flight touched down at Leeds Bradford Airport.
He faced being extradited from the UK to Bulgaria.
Extradition specialist Sean Caulfield at Hodge Jones &Allen, instructed counsel Saoirse Townshend, and successfully appealed against the order to extradite Mr Ion on the grounds that it would be against his human rights.
His Honour Mr Justice Lewis, a judge of the Court of Appeal, quashed the order for extradition, taking into consideration the lack of seriousness of the offence and Mr Ion's vulnerabilities.
Mr Ion said: “I was shocked when I was arrested as I couldn’t understand why. It is clear to me now that Vasi and his family set me up. I have been forced to fight to clear my good name when I was the victim in this., but I am so pleased that this was achieved by my legal team."
Mr Ion is now making a new life for himself in Leeds following years of upset and turmoil.
Mr Caulfield said: “Our client has been taken advantage of for most of his life, being forced into modern day slavery and to work for nothing while being constantly threatened with violence.
"He fled to the UK to seek a better life but was immediately arrested for a crime he was duped into carrying out.
"We are pleased the Court of Appeal overturned the European arrest warrant and allowed Mr Ion to restart his life away from those who abused him for so long.”