A man who claimed to be the slave of organised criminals was actually operating a drugs factory from a house in York.

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

York Crown Court heard how Zenelaj told police he was held as a slave by an Albanian organised crime group.

But he was actually an illegal immigrant – and his story unravelled after an investigation by North Yorkshire Police.

Strong smell of cannabis

A strong smell of cannabis from the Boroughbridge Road house led police to raid the property.

Inside they found 49 plants and growing equipment. The electricity meter had been bypassed and connected to the mains supply.

They 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 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.

Counting £5K in cash

York Crown Court. Photograph: Richard McDougall
The 26-year-old defendant, 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 modern slave at the property.

A number of items seized from the property, 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 (see above), Minazur Rahman, contradicted his claim.

Further evidence was also presented which showed Zenelaj shopping and travelling around the country with his girlfriend and proved he was not being held against his will, as was presented to the court, and, on 2 May 2019, they found him guilty.

Rahman, 28, of Mexborough Street, Leeds, pleaded guilty at the start of the trial to allowing the house to be used for the production of cannabis and was sentenced to 10 months suspended sentence and given a community order and 150 hours unpaid work.

First case of its kind

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.

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