Europe Cracks Down on Sex Trafficking, 15 Arrested

Published: 28 April 2023

Bulgarian Police OperationBulgarian police during the operation. (Photo: Metropolitan Police, License)

By Vinicius Madureira

Authorities across Europe detained 15 suspects believed to be members of two separate criminal groups involved in the trafficking of women for sexual exploitation - one operating between the United Kingdom and Bulgaria, and the other in Romania and Ireland.

The EU Agency for Criminal Justice Cooperation said in statements on Wednesday that police in the U.K. and in Bulgaria, with the support of EU law enforcement agencies, conducted investigations since November 2021 into a criminal network that trafficked vulnerable women in Bulgaria for sexual exploitation.

Detective Jim Madden from the U.K. Police said that women were allegedly groomed and forced into prostitution through fear of violence. “Unfortunately, this type of exploitation is still happening across London and the U.K.,” he added.

During Wednesday’s joint operation, three men and six women presumed to be belonging to this binational gang were arrested, and assets worth over 1.1 million euro (US$1.22 million), including cash, high-value vehicles, and property, were seized. The suspects allegedly approached vulnerable Bulgarian women and forced them into prostitution in the U.K. Five victims were identified and rescued during the raids.

In Romania and Ireland, investigations started a little later, in February 2022, and the authorities found that a prostitution network facilitated the sexual exploitation of over 30 women. They recruited victims in Romania and transported them to various places in Ireland where they were forced into prostitution and also used to sell drugs.

Sexual services were advertised by this group through advertisements posted on profile sites on the Internet.

Active since 2019, investigators believe the group made a significant amount of money through their criminal activities. They allegedly used a complex financial circuit to conceal their ill-gotten gains, which involved using fast money transfer services and bank accounts opened in the names of intermediaries.

This week’s operation resulted in the detention of six of its alleged members, the seizure of mobile phones, electronic equipment, airsoft guns, high-risk drugs, and cash.

In both cases, Eurojust played a key role in facilitating judicial cooperation between the countries.