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Monday 22 January 2018

Irish money trail exposed in global prostitution probe

SHANE PHELAN

A MULTI-MILLION euro money trail from Ireland to eastern Europe has been uncovered as part of an international investigation into sex trafficking and forced prostitution.

The cross-border inquiry has unearthed evidence that huge sums were routed by suspects to bank accounts in Romania.

The gang at the centre of the probe is estimated to have transferred tens of millions of euro from the proceeds of trafficking and prostitution, according to a source familiar with the inquiry.

In an exclusive interview with the Sunday Independent, one of the women trafficked by the gang to Ireland told how pimps used horrific violence and drugs to keep women under their control.

She was kidnapped, sold for €20,000, and forced to work as a prostitute in brothels in Belfast, Dublin, Galway, Cork and Limerick.

The woman, who we are calling 'Anna' to protect her identity, has called on Justice Minister Alan Shatter to introduce laws criminalising people who buy sex.

"The only way to end trafficking is to end the demand. If any man who pays for sex thought he could be arrested and interrogated by police in front of his wife, charged in court, and lose his career, it would end demand full stop," she told the Sunday Independent.

It is not an offence to sell or purchase sex in Ireland. Gardai can only prosecute people who solicit in public, organise prostitution, live off the earnings of prostitution or coerce a person into the sex trade.

Mr Shatter is consulting with Attorney General Maire Whelan and Health Minister Dr James Reilly on possible new legislation after the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality published a report advocating laws which would make it an offence to purchase sexual services.

Legislation outlawing the purchase of sex has already been brought before the Northern Assembly by DUP peer Lord Maurice Morrow.

The international probe that uncovered the money trail is being led by the PSNI and also involves police forces in Romania and Scandinavia. To date, there has been no official involvement by the gardai. At least two key gang members are in custody facing serious charges as a result of inquiries thus far.

Legal papers linked to the probe, which have been seen by the Sunday Independent, reveal how police obtained details of multiple bank accounts used by gang members, including ones at the Romanian Raiffeisen Bank.

Surveillance of gang members was conducted during international trips and photos of a key lieutenant, taken in Ireland, also form part of the investigation file.

The papers detail how gang members used the proceeds of crime to buy expensive cars.

They used violence, threats and intimidation to keep trafficked women in line.

Confiscated mobile phones and records of flights where women were allegedly trafficked in and out of Dublin Airport also form part of the investigation. A number of women who were trafficked by the gang have co-operated and provided information.

However, some are understood to have been disappointed that they did not receive more support with their rehabilitation, having endured serious physical abuse at the hands of pimps.

The trafficking operation was described as highly organised. The gang rented apartments and hotel rooms in Irish cities and regularly moved women to avoid detection. They advertised the women on escort websites. Protection money was paid to Irish criminal gangs to allow them move into their areas.

After a period of months touring around Irish cities the women would then be moved on to other north European countries.

"No matter how it starts, these people take advantage of weak girls," said Anna.

"Trafficking is the worst thing ever. You lose your family, you lose your friends. You become a slave. It makes a living person dead inside."

Sunday Independent

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