Europol has provided support to a major international operation into human trafficking carried out by law enforcement authorities from France, Paraguay and Spain. The operation took down an organised crime group engaged in trafficking of women for the purpose of sexual exploitation.
On 31 May 2016, 10 house searches were simultaneously executed in the countries involved, leading to the arrest of 14 suspects and the further identification and safeguarding of 15 victims.
Cash in local currency, more than 40 mobile phones, passports and other significant evidence were seized. The analysis performed upon the items seized reinforced the victims' statements, linking the members of the group to various steps of the criminal offences committed. Moreover, documents seized confirmed that the criminal network had been operating for over 5 years.
The operation was the conclusion of a large-scale human trafficking investigation, involving for the first time Paraguayan authorities acting in a coordinated way with the Spanish and French authorities, supported by Europol. The investigation started off with a call received on the victims support phone line established by the Spanish Police 6 months ago.
Special investigative techniques, such as surveillances and wire-tapping, carried out by the competent authorities, led to the detection of a well-structured organised crime group acting in Ciudad del Este (Paraguay), where the victims were recruited under false promises of well-paid jobs in France and Spain. The crime group was led by a family established in all 3 countries.
Once the victims arrived in Europe, they were faced with the harsh reality: they had been misled and coerced into prostitution by means of threat against theirs and their relatives' lives. The victims were exploited in several private flats in France and in 2 massage parlours in Spain. They were regularly moved from one place to another with a view of offering new faces to clients to maximise the criminal profits obtained from prostitution. The victims were controlled by leaders of the group who regularly demanded information on the number of customers serviced and the amount of money earned from prostitution.
As a result of this coordinated cross-border investigation, the whole criminal network has been dismantled, the recruiters arrested in Paraguay and the transporters and exploiters in France and Spain. Those arrested are investigated for a range of serious offences, including aggravated facilitation of illegal entry, money laundering and drug trafficking.
One of the members has also been detained in a parallel operation on drugs trafficking. One of the suspects arrested is a local police officer, and another one is a former police officer who have seemingly abused of their position to threaten the victims. They are suspected of accessing restricted information on the network and acting as counter-surveillance.
Investigation supported by the competent body in Pamplona (Spain) linked to the Tax Agency (D.A.V.A.) revealed that the organised crime group owned properties worth more than EUR 700,000. Bank accounts are currently under investigation in Spain. The investigation continues, as the authorities believe that more suspects can be arrested, and further victims can be found and offered protection and assistance.
Europol supported the countries involved in this cross-border human trafficking operation throughout the investigation. Prior to the action day, coordination meetings were held at Europol. A mobile office was deployed to Pamplona (Spain) during the joint action day carried out in the three countries involved. Europol's on-the-spot support allowed for real time cross-checks of data on the action day and extraction of evidence from the mobile phones seized.