100 Indians ‘forced to work without pay in Laos’

Golden Triangle

Mumbai Crime Branch is investigating job scams that traffick youngsters to different countries and keeps them hostage without pay and food.

Police have arrested two people for involvement in a case in which more than 100 Indian citizens were lured with offers of high-paying jobs to Thailand but were held hostage in extremely poor conditions and forced to work in a call center and in hospitality without pay. The victims are in the age group of 20 and 45 and most of them are men.

Mumbai Police’s Crime Branch unit arrested accused Jerry Phillips Jacob, age 46 years and Godafi Thomas Alvarez, age 39 years on Monday. Both the accused are from the Borivali suburbs in Mumbai.

Fraudulent job calls

“After the lockdown, the accused moved to Laos and began operating fake call centers there. They made fraudulent calls to target people in Europe, the USA, and Canada. They offered jobs and hired Indians from different states luring them with handsome offers to work in Thailand. After the applicants reached Thailand, their passports and phones were taken away and they were kept hostage in the Golden Triangle area of Laos, which is a crime hub. We are still investigating as there could be more victims trapped in there,” said inspector Laxmikant Salunke, of crime branch unit 8, who led the investigation.

Officially, the police have registered only 12 victims but there are over 100 who have been trapped by the accused.

The crime came to light after one of the victims, Siddharth Yadav (23), who happens to be a Thane resident, managed to escape and return to India with help from the Indian embassy in Laos. Mr. Yadav, a hotel management graduate, filed an FIR with the Vile Parle Police. According to Mr. Yadav’s complaint, he was contacted for the job in December 2022 through a relative. He was offered a lucrative call center job in Thailand with a salary of ₹65,000-75,000 per month.

“However, upon arrival in Chiang Rai, Thailand, he along with other victims were transferred to the Laos border by a Chinese national. Their passports were confiscated, and they were transported to Laos by boat illegally. On reaching the Golden Triangle area in Laos, Yadav and his fellow victims came across two Indian nationals, identified as Godfrey and Sunny who forced them to work in a cybercrime operation,” according to officials from Crime Branch.

Forced into cyber crime

The victims were given instructions to make fake social media accounts to target people in Western countries. Their objective was to dupe customers into investing in cryptocurrency. An attempt to protest the conditions led to a beating and further intimidation.

They were not paid for their jobs as promised and were constantly kept under surveillance. They were not allowed to go anywhere; kept cut off from the outside world and given poor quality food once a day. They made multiple attempts to retrieve their passports but most failed.

Following the embassy’s intervention and pressure from Laotian police, 5 Indian victims were rescued. While some received their passports quickly, Mr. Yadav’s return was delayed because he was negotiating with his trafficker who demanded money in return for his passport. After Mr. Yadav reached India, he immediately visited a police station and registered an FIR.

“The Mumbai Police Crime Branch is currently investigating the case. We presented the accused in court this morning and they will be in police custody till March 31. We are actively investigating this as a human trafficking and cybercrime racket. For a crime like this, the punishment could be life to 10 years,” officials from Crime Branch said.