THESSALONIKI, Greece – Police freed a Bulgarian woman who was allegedly held captive in a stable and tortured for four months by smugglers demanding she pay them $4,550 as a fee for being transported into the country illegally, authorities said Monday.
They were accused of subjecting the woman to frequent beatings, sexual assault, burning her with a poker and leaving her hanging upside down for hours. She was also forced to eat droppings from farm animals, police said.
Thessaloniki Police's organized crime director, Nikos Malamas, said the woman also appeared to be suffering from malnutrition.
"She told us she was given one piece of bread to eat each day. She has burn marks from a red-hot poker, including a scar just below her lip," Malamas said.
The city's crime squad chief Stergios Apostolidis said the suspects were arrested in a village 22 miles west of Thessaloniki. The raid was ordered Friday after the woman's family contacted authorities in neighboring Bulgaria.
"The victim was found in very bad shape. She could not walk and could hardly move ... we have saved a person's life," Apostolidis said.
All three suspects were taken into custody in Thessaloniki and were charged with membership of a criminal gang, abduction, sexual assault, aggravated assault, blackmail and exposing a person to danger.
The 37-year-old woman, who was not identified, has been hospitalized and underwent surgery for an ear injury.
Greece is a major transit point for immigrants seeking entry into the European Union. Bulgaria joined the EU on Jan. 1 but still faces labor restrictions by Greece and other EU members.
The average monthly wage in Bulgaria is euro180, or $235 — about five times lower than in Greece.
Apostolidis said the smugglers had brought the woman to Greece last June — together with her 40-year-old husband — to work as farm laborer. She was taken captive in October after Greek authorities discovered the husband had no residence permit and ordered his deportation.
The smugglers allegedly also threatened the husband after his return to Bulgaria, as well as the couple's 16-year-old daughter and 11-year-old son who live near the Black Sea port of Burgas, in eastern Bulgaria.