Illegal immigrant who grew cannabis jailed after he was caught lying about being kept as a slave

Leontjev Zenelaj.
Leontjev Zenelaj.
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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 Yorkshire cannabis factory.

Leontjev Zenelaj has been sentenced to three-and-a-half years in jail after he was found guilty of producing cannabis at a house in Boroughbridge Road in York in November 2016.

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There was a strong smell of cannabis coming from within the property, York Crown Court heard.

Landlord Minazur Rahman, of Mexborough Street, Chapeltown, Leeds, was given a suspended sentence for allowing the house to be used for the production of cannabis.

Police found 49 plants and growing equipment inside the property.

The electricity meter had also been bypassed and connected to the mains supply.

Officers also found two small suitcases containing men and women’s clothes, toiletries in the bathroom and a well-stocked fridge.

The only furniture in the house was a small table and two wrought iron garden patio chairs in what appeared to be a living room.

Both Zenelaj, of no fixed address, and his girlfriend were arrested on suspicion of being concerned in the production of cannabis and abstracting electricity.

No further action was taken against his girlfriend.

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Zenelaj, 26, who was assisted by an interpreter in Albanian throughout the proceedings, told detectives he had been trafficked from his native Albania and held as a slave at the property.

But a number of items seized from the house, including a tenancy agreement which had his fingerprints on, and a mobile phone which contained a video clip of him counting £5,000 cash to his landlord, Rahman, contradicted his claim.

Zenelaj also went shopping and travelled around the country with his girlfriend, proving he was not being held against his will.

He was found guilty on Thursday, May 2.

Rahman, 28, pleaded guilty at the start of the trial and was handed a 10 month suspended sentence, a community order and 150 hours unpaid work.

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Detective Leah Kitchen of North Yorkshire Police’s Organised Crime Unit, who lead 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 Mr Zenelaj was not being truthful in his allegations that he was a victim of modern slavery and he was subsequently convicted.

"We would like to expel Organised Crime from our communities and would encourage everyone in supporting us by contacting the Police or Crimestoppers with any information they think would assist “

It is the first case in North Yorkshire where the modern slavery defence has been defeated at court.