A man in his 70s who’s one of 20 fraud defendants following a raid on his family’s Lime grocery store chain collapsed outside the local court in Lillestrøm, northeast of Oslo, on Thursday. He’s among those charged with serious fraud, human trafficking and tax evasion, among other crimes.
Police and a wide range of state agencies carried out a massive raid of Lime stores all over the country earlier this week. The chain, set up a few years ago by former workers at another nationwide grocery store chain that bills itself as offering relatively low prices, has been under suspicion of exploiting workers and failing to abide by Norwegian business practices. Its boss, Sajjad Hussain, was arrested in August and charged with human trafficking.
Alleged victims from Pakistan and Nepal
The Hussain family’s Lime chain is suspected of illegally bringing people from Pakistan and Nepal to Norway and forcing them to work in their grocery store chain. The raids conducted this week were against 29 Lime stores in Oslo, Rælingen, Bærum, Asker, Sandefjord, Larvik and Ski.
A total of 280 people from the police, state welfare and labour agency NAV, the special white collar crime unit Økokrim, the customs service, immigration agency Utlendingsdirektoratet (UDI) and various tax offices took part in the raids.
They have identified several people believed to have been victims of human trafficking, after some earlier cases of alleged exploitation of workers came up against Lime stores in the Oslo suburb of Bærum. The Lime bosses are also accused of defrauding local NAV offices, using false identities, evading taxes and loan fraud,
Homes raided, too
Police and state authorities have also raided several homes of Lime leaders in what ranks as one of Norway’s largest and most extensive investigations ever.
The elderly man who collapsed outside the Nedre Romerike courthouse in Lillestrøm on Thursday has denied guilt. His defense attorney Petter Bonde told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) that his client has health problems and was distressed after being held for two days in custody and in isolation.
Eleven of the 20 defendants now in custody were facing custody hearings on Thursday. Six are members of the Hussain family, along with two of the alleged victims. NRK reported that several were ordered held for at least four weeks while police and state authorities continue their investigation. They argued that custody was necessary in order to prevent tampering of evidence.