Romanian prosecutors on Friday indicted 14 persons, including a German couple, on charges of trafficking and treating German teens "like slaves" under the guise of a state-funded programme aimed at helping them.
Between 2014 and 2019, children aged 12 to 18 were trafficked, suffering "profoundly abusive" treatment at a centre in a remote mountain area of northern Romania, said the prosecutor's office for fighting organised crime (DIICOT).
The investigation, which started last August, has now been sent for trial on charges of membership of an organised criminal group, child trafficking, deprivation of liberty and money laundering.
When the first raids took place, Berlin said at that time it had not been aware of any problems with the programme over the past 20 years.
German citizens Bert Schumann, 61, and his wife, Babett Schumann, who founded the programme called "Projekt Maramures" are alleged to have been at the heart of the operation.
Others include an employee from a child protection agency accused of turning a blind eye to the abuses, supervisors from the programme and locals who used the children as workers, said a source in the prosecutor's office.
Twenty children were in the programme's centre when prosecutors searched it in August 2019, said the local child protection agency.
The teenagers had behavioural problems and came from "troubled families", according to DIICOT.
They were put on the programme after the German state had taken them from the families, entrusting them to "Projekt Maramures" for a rehabilitation programme, said prosecutors.
"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 forcing them 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 purposed than the ones for which they were entrusted".
Last summer, prosecutors found 137 000 euros ($152 000) in Bert Schumann's home and almost 9 000 euros at one of his alleged accomplices that they could not justify at the time.