Lying illegal immigrant defeated in attempt to use modern slavery defence

An illegal immigrant who told police he was held as a slave by an Albanian organised crime group has been jailed after being caught working at a cannabis factory – the first case in North Yorkshire in which the ‘modern slavery’ defence has been defeated at court.

Jun 20, 2019
By Tony Thompson
Leontjev Zenelaj

Leontjev Zenelaj was sentenced to three-and-a-half years in prison after he was found guilty of producing cannabis at a house in York in November 2016. His landlord, Minazur Rahman, was given a suspended sentence for allowing the property to be used in the production of cannabis.

Officers had raided the property after being alerted to a strong smell of cannabis coming from within. Inside, they found 49 plants and growing equipment. The electricity meter had also been bypassed and connected to the mains supply.

Zenelaj told detectives he had been trafficked from his native Albania and was being held as a slave at the property. However, items seized from the house, including a tenancy agreement with his fingerprints, and a mobile phone that contained a video clip of him counting £5,000 in cash to his landlord, Rahman, contradicted his claim.

Further evidence showed Zenelaj shopping and travelling around the country with his girlfriend, indicating that he was not being held against his will. No further action was taken against his girlfriend.

Rahman, 28, pleaded guilty at the start of the trial at York Crown Court and was handed a ten-month suspended sentence, a community order and 150 hours unpaid work.

Detective Constable Leah Kitchen of North Yorkshire Police’s Organised Crime Unit, who led the investigation, said: “North Yorkshire Police take allegations of modern slavery and human trafficking very seriously and they are thoroughly investigated. In this case, the investigation proved that Zenelaj was not being truthful in his allegations that he was a victim of modern slavery and he was subsequently convicted.

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