Romania extradites ‘human trafficking linchpin’ to U.S. Suspect wanted for trafficking thousands of poor Roma

Foto: INQUAM/Octav Ganea

Romania has extradited a notorious underworld figure to the U.S. to face charges of organizing the illegal entry to the U.S. of hundreds of Romanians, who were then exploited for financial gain.

Interior Minister Marcel Vela on Friday announced the arrest and extradition of an alleged linchpin of a human trafficking ring wanted by the U.S. for immigration-related charges.

The accused “is at the top of a network of international human trafficking  ring in Romania, Mexico and the U.S.,” said Vela speaking at Bucharest airport, just before the departure of the plane taking the suspect to the U.S.

Romanian media identified the man as a well-known mobster from the southern city of Craiova, Cristinel Luigi Popescu, 51, known as “Luis.” He was previously pursued by Romanian justice officials for his role in organizing the illegal entry of hundreds of Roma to Canada and the U.S. via Mexico.

His extradition was approved by a court in Craiova on July 9, Libertatea reported. Another Romanian charged with cybercrimes in the States was also extradited by plane on Friday to face charges.

U.S. Ambassador to Romania, Adrian Zuckerman, was at the Henri Coanda Airport where the extradition took place and praised Romanian authorities.

Commenting on the State Department’s 2019 Trafficking in Persons Report, which noted a lack of progress in fighting human trafficking, he said: “The report recognized that the human trafficking problem in Romania was due to the backsliding in the rule of law by the prior government.” 

He recently called on Parliament “to act and address the issue”, and said it was  “very disappointing” that the acting leader of the opposition Social Democratic Party, Marcel Ciolacu  had responded “by saying that current Romanian laws on human trafficking and the rule of law are sufficient.”

“They are not,” Zuckerman said.

Zuckerman praised the governing Liberal Party for its “remarkable” efforts “to enforce the rule of law, stop human trafficking and stop organized crime.”

The FBI and Romania’s organized crime unit, DIICOT, say Popescu was a key figure from criminal gangs who smuggled thousands of Romanians into the U.S from Mexico since 2013, 3minute net reported.

They were mostly poor Roma and had previously committed to pay traffickers huge sums of money, and were forced to beg, steal and prostitute themselves. Some told U.S. authorities that they faced discrimination in Romania.


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