Romanian prosecutors have indicted 14 people, including a German couple, on charges of trafficking and treating German teenagers "like slaves" under the guise of a state-funded reeducation program.
Children aged 12 to 18 were trafficked from 2014 to 2019, suffering "profoundly abusive" treatment at a center funded by the German state in a remote mountain area of northern Romania, according to the prosecutor's office for fighting organized crime (DIICOT).
The probe, which started in August, has now been sent for trial on charges of membership of an organized criminal group, child trafficking, deprivation of liberty, and money laundering.
German citizens Bert Schumann, 61, and his wife, Babett Schumann, who founded the program called Projekt Maramures, after the name of the northern region the center is located, allegedly were the masterminds of the operation.
Others include an employee from Romania's child protection agency and locals who used the children as workers, a source in the prosecutor's office told the media.
The children, who had behavioral problems and came from troubled families, were enrolled in the program after the German state had taken them from their families and entrusted them to the rehabilitation program, prosecutors said.
"In reality, they were subjected to tough and brutal methods of so-called education...," they said.
"They were held in conditions that amount to slavery, exploited by being forced to work beyond their physical power until exhaustion, deprived of food and liberty."
The funds paid by the German state were "mostly used for other purposes than the ones for which they were entrusted."
Prosecutors in August found 137,000 euros ($152,000) in Schumann's home.