Around 135 Thai berry pickers left Åsele in Sweden’s north on Saturday evening to return to Thailand empty handed after the owners of their employer, Lömjsö Bär, allegedly emptied the firm of cash and fled.
The majority of the 160 Thai people who have spent the past two months working for the firm have decided to give up their fight to be paid for their work, having received only 6,000 kronor ($894).
“38 Thais have chosen to stay to try to get their salaries,” said Dan Andersson at Umeå police on Saturday evening.
When back in Thailand the berry pickers face an uncertain future, with many having borrowed substantial sums to travel to Sweden for the season.
“They are in dire straits. The embassy is seeing to it that they get home but they have been fooled out of everything they own,” said interpreter Tomas Hasser to local newspaper Västerbottens Kuriren.
The atmosphere among the berry pickers became heated at times with police in attendance.
Most of the berry pickers will fly out to Thailand on Sunday, while the remaining few are booked on flights on October 11th.
The CEO of Lömsjö Bär AB, Ari Hallikanen, is meanwhile suspected of financial crimes after having allegedly emptied the firm of its cash and fled Sweden. No official criminal investigation has however yet been opened against him or chairperson Olle Andersson regarding Åsele.
Hallikanen has a series of bankruptcies behind him, and in 2007 faced charges of assault involving berry pickers in Hälsingland.
Lömsjö Bär was the firm which was involved in a highly publicised fight in Särna in the summer involving Vietnamese berry pickers. The argument led to the arrest of several berry pickers after they locked in their supervisors.