German children, who were brought to Romania as part of a relief program for troubled youth, were instead held under “slave-like conditions,” the prosecutor said.
Eight suspects, including a German couple, are suspected of having trafficked and abused the minors through the Maramures project funded by the German government.
Romanian prosecutors claim that minors have been treated as “degrading”. German officials said they had contact with Romanian authorities.
The website of Project Maramures states that the goal is to “rehabilitate” young people in trouble.
It aims to help minors suffering from behavioral problems or drug addiction and provide recreational and psychological support on a farm in the Maramures region of northern Romania.
According to Romanian investigators, the teenagers between the ages of 12 and 18 were instead treated as slaves, beaten and forced to do “strenuous physical work”.
They were not given food, were not allowed to take any prescription drugs, had no contact with the outside world, and were subjected to “hard and brutal methods of so-called reeducation,” a statement said.
The prosecution accused the German couple and other suspects of having created the program for trafficking in human beings approved by the Romanian Ministry of Labor “under the guise of legitimate educational services”.
A spokeswoman for the German foreign ministry confirmed on Wednesday that German diplomats in Romania had contacted the local authorities to offer consular assistance.
“This is a project that has been going on for almost 20 years, and in the last 20 years we have not encountered any problems as they are now reported in the media,” the spokeswoman told reporters, AP news agency said.
Court sources told AFP that the authorities arrested several people at the center.
The public prosecutor’s office did not specify how many children are likely to be affected by the alleged abuse, which probably began in 2014.