Romania Extradites Human Trafficking Kingpin To US


By Marcel Gascón Barberá

Romania’s Minister of the Interior, Marcel Vela, on Friday announced the arrest and extradition to the US of an alleged human trafficking kingpin wanted by the US for eight immigration-related charges.

The accused “is at the top of a network of international human trafficking [gangs operating] in Romania, Mexico and the US,” said Vela from Bucharest airport, minutes before the plane that would escort the man to justice took off. 

Romanian media named the alleged criminal as a well-known Craiova underworld figure, Cristinel Luigi Popescu, known as “Luis”. He was previously wanted by Romanian justice for his role in organising the illegal entry to Canada and the US via Mexico of hundreds of Romanian Roma people.

His extradition was approved by a court in Craiova, southwest Romania. Another Romanian accused of several cybercrimes in America has also been sent to the US to face justice.

The US ambassador to Romania, Adrian Zuckerman, was present at Otopeni airport and commended his Romanian counterparts for the success of the operation.

Zuckerman referenced the US State Department’s Trafficking in Persons Report for 2019, released last June, which noted Romania’s lack of progress in fighting human trafficking.

“The report recognised that the human trafficking problem in Romania was due to the backsliding in the rule of law by the prior government,” the ambassador said on Friday. 

He recalled having recently urged the Romanian parliament “to act and address the issue”, and deemed it “very disappointing that PSD leader [Marcel] Ciolacu had responded by saying that current Romanian laws on human trafficking and the rule of law are sufficient.”

“They are not,” Zuckerman concluded, in his rebuttal of the opposition leader’s comments. 

Zuckerman praised the current National Liberal Party government for its “remarkable” efforts “to enforce the rule of law, stop human trafficking and stop organised crime”.

A year ago, the Romanian newspaper Libertatea reported that the US authorities had intercepted more than 4,000 Romanians who tried to enter the US illegally from Mexico since 2014. They were mostly poor Roma and had previously committed to pay traffickers huge sums of money, which drew them into crime.

Balkan Insight

The Balkan Insight (formerly the Balkin Investigative Reporting Network, BIRN) is a close group of editors and trainers that enables journalists in the region to produce in-depth analytical and investigative journalism on complex political, economic and social themes. BIRN emerged from the Balkan programme of the Institute for War & Peace Reporting, IWPR, in 2005. The original IWPR Balkans team was mandated to localise that programme and make it sustainable, in light of changing realities in the region and the maturity of the IWPR intervention. Since then, its work in publishing, media training and public debate activities has become synonymous with quality, reliability and impartiality. A fully-independent and local network, it is now developing as an efficient and self-sustainable regional institution to enhance the capacity for journalism that pushes for public debate on European-oriented political and economic reform.

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