Multiple police forces across Europe have taken part in a Europol-backed operation targeting a major international human trafficking gang run from Romania.
The crackdown, which involved law enforcement agencies from Belgium, the Czech Republic, Germany, Switzerland and the UK, disrupted an organised crime gang involved in the trafficking of young, vulnerable women for the purposes of sexual exploitation and money laundering.
Police in Romania raided 71 properties on 19 June, resulting in the arrest of 35 suspected members of the group, and the discovery of more than €1 million in cash, eight luxury cars, 34 luxury watches and a number of weapons including machetes and an air gun.
The raid also resulted in the seizure of 24 laptops and 92 smartphones, which specialist investigators are now examining.
Simultaneous searches were carried out in the UK by officers from Britain’s National Crime Agency (NCA), Northumbria Police and Home Office Immigration Enforcement.
These raids resulted in the arrest of three suspects and the rescue of 10 potential victims, all of whom were referred for specialist support from local agencies.
Several thousand pounds in cash was seized, along with ammunition and pepper spray.
In all, the entire criminal network is thought to have raked in more than €5 million from its illegal activities.
Superintendent Peter Bent, of Northumbria Police, said: “Safeguarding vulnerable people is a major priority for Northumbria Police and some of the victims we have identified today are extremely vulnerable.
“We believe that these women were trafficked into the UK on the promise of paid employment, but what awaited them was a horrific life of exploitation.
“Human traffickers exploit vulnerable people in truly appalling ways and control them through violence and threatening behaviour.
“Some of the women we have safeguarded today may not even realise they are victims but they will now receive the level of care and support they need.”
Daniela Buruiana, Member of the European Parliament for Romania, commented: “This highly successful joint action could not have taken place without the constructive collaboration of all the parties involved, demonstrating the importance of national police and judicial authorities cooperating fully with each other and with Eurojust to defeat criminals sexually exploiting innocent victims.”
UK and Romanian police last month broke up a gang suspected of smuggling women from Eastern Europe to a number of cities in the UK for the purposes of prostitution.
The gang set the women up in rented rooms and posted profiles of them on “escort” sites. Members of the group were said to have been operating in the UK since 2012, and would move the women they exploited every month in an effort to avoid the attention of local authorities.
Police in many UK towns and cities are dealing with an increase in the number of pop-up brothels, which organised criminals typically set up in short-term rental accommodation for a few weeks before moving on.