Widespread prostitution ring busted

Police yesterday claimed to have broken a major international sex-trafficking network after arresting 30 people in Athens and Thessaloniki following a year of surveillance. In a sweep of raids on homes and businesses, and with the assistance of Interpol and Europol, Greek officers arrested nine suspected gang members – whose nationalities were not divulged – and 21 «associates» from strip clubs, bars and brothels. Police are seeking another 23 suspected gang members – 15 Greeks, four Russians, three Germans and a Turkish national, all living outside Greece. One of these suspects – a 47-year-old ethnic Greek from Russia – is believed to be the ringleader. Further arrests are expected in the next few days. The gang – described by Greek police as «one of the biggest criminal organizations active in the sexual exploitation of immigrant women in our country» – is believed to have been operating for at least two years, laundering its profits by running cafes, nightclubs and strip bars and buying properties in Athens and Thessaloniki. The women used by the ring were mostly recruited through bogus job agencies operated by gang members in Eastern Europe and Russia, according to police. The women would be given fake passports and sent to various European countries including Greece, Germany, Britain and the Netherlands, officers said. According to police, most of the women relocated under the pretext of a job that never materialized. On arrival, they were kept in apartments and many forced to have sex with between 40 and 100 clients per day, officers said. Gang members are said to have blackmailed the women into meeting their demands by threatening to harm their relatives. Only three of the foreign women detained following the raids – those who reported the gang’s activities to police – were described as «trafficking victims.» It appears that new patterns of coercion – where women are not beaten – make it more difficult for a sex-trafficking victim to be identified as such. Police also revealed they had arrested 73 people in July in connection with another sex-trafficking ring.