Madrid Police have released footage showing “inhumane conditions” in a squalid Madrid restaurant housing 20 impoverished people packed into it and threatened with COVID-19 if they refused to pay money to the owner.
The victims of differing nationalities included two babies under one year old who were living in the restaurant in the San Blas neighbourhood of the Spanish capital and two arrests have been made.
Local media report the investigation began when officers from the San Blas police station suspected that the restaurant, which had stopped its commercial activity, was being used to house homeless people in overcrowded and unsanitary conditions.
The Brigade of Foreign Affairs and Documentation joined the investigation and a police statement says a “device” was used to carry out an inspection inside the restaurant.
Upon entering the premises, 20 people of Spanish, Bangladeshi, Colombian, Filipino, Honduran, Peruvian, Portuguese and Venezuelan nationality were found inside, including two babies.
The police report state that the victims were living in “unsanitary conditions, crowded into very small spaces and not suitable for living in”.
Mattresses had reportedly been set up on the bar, under the extractor fan in the kitchen and in the patio.
The video shows the cramped conditions the victims were living in inside the restaurant
The police statement says that each ‘room’ was separated with cardboard or plastic, with bugs, cockroaches found on the floor and nauseating smell on the premises.
The investigation revealed that the business owner, a 54-year-old Bolivian woman, had rented small spaces to people with economic difficulties once the restaurant’s commercial activity ceased and people were unable to go outside amid the lockdown.
The police statement says that if “one of the victims could not make the full payment of the rent, it prevented them from accessing basic supplies and they were transferred to even smaller spaces such as small toilets or even a cold room”.
The statement added: “In addition, to further intimidate the victims, she claimed to be a COVID-19 carrier and coughed and sneezed over plates and other items when they were going to eat.”
She was arrested for “encouraging illegal immigration, coercion and a crime against public health” while the owner of the building, a 53-year-old Spaniard, was alleged to have been aware of the practice and arrested on suspicion of encouraging illegal immigration.
The investigation is ongoing as the authorities look to see if others were involved in the crime.
All the victims have reportedly been attended to by social services and taken to municipal centres.