Police have arrested a car wash boss as part of an investigation into an organised crime network suspected of modern slavery offences.
Officers raided Avion Elezi’s home in Harcourt Drive, Canterbury, this morning - eight months after a documentary team uncovered alleged horrific working conditions at the chain of USA Car Washes he runs.
They carried out simultaneous raids at the USA Car Washes in Chartham, Aylesford, Hersden and in Canterbury’s Broad Oak Road.
Video: Police raid car washes amid slavery investigation
Two private homes in Field Avenue, Canterbury, and Rentain Road in Chartham used as accommodation by car wash employees were also visited by police.
Officers arrived at Elezi’s terraced home at 6am and removed him 30 minutes later.
As he was put into a car, the Albanian told newsmen: “Morning. I hope you’re happy.”
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A woman aged 21 in the property was taken away later. Police also arrested a 32-year-old man.
Supt Eddie Fox is overseeing the operation and confirmed it had been prompted by the documentary, made by a team from the Al-Jazeera news channel.
Avion Elezi being led away by police
Police at the house in Harcourt Drive, Canterbury
“We hadn’t known about this before the documentary – that started the investigation,” Supt Fox said after the morning’s raids.
“Since then there has been a lot investigative work. There is concern that workers are being exploited and exposed to dangerous working conditions.
Police at the USA Hand Car Wash in Canterbury
A woman is led away by police after the raid in Harcourt Drive
“This is an investigation by the police and partner agencies into modern slavery and human trafficking. Our priority absolutely is protecting vulnerable people.”
The Al-Jazeera documentary centred on footage gathered by a Romanian national called Claudio who used secret camera equipment to film the conditions and treatment of staff at the car wash while he worked there for five months.
In one scene, a worker unaware he is being filmed, says: “We are treated worse than slaves. At least the rats are free.”
The raids were carried out in conjunction with the National Crime Agency, the Environment Agency and the Immigration Enforcement team from the Home Office.
More than 80 officers are involved.
Police have also taken more than 20 car wash employees to a reception centre to be interviewed. They believe that up to 15 people could be victims.
Supt Fox said the investigation would proceed under the Modern Slavery Act 2015, but could involve a variety of potential offences.
The USA Hand Car Wash in Broad Oak Road
He said: “We could be looking at money laundering or assault. There could also be investigations into pay and working conditions and the Environment Agency could be concerned with the accommodation.
“It’s a complicated investigation with a number of challenges. There is a language issue and some of these people may not think they are victims or being exploited.
“The fact that this came to us from a documentary shows that the information can come from any source.
“And we would urge everyone to be on the look out for signs of slavery.
"We have worked closely with the NCA and Immigration Enforcement as part of this operation and would ask anyone who may have information that may prove useful to this investigation, to come forward."
Anyone with any information is asked to call Kent Police on 101. Alternatively contact Kent CrimeStoppers on 0800 555111.