22 June 2017
Three men have been arrested in the UK as part of an National Crime Agency led multi-agency operation targeting an organised crime group (OCG) allegedly involved in trafficking girls from Romania for sexual exploitation and money laundering.
NCA investigators believe the criminals were using the internet to advertise the services of their victims, then forcing them to launder the proceeds through bank accounts controlled by the OCG.
Across Europe, the group and its wider network are suspected to have made around €5 million in criminal profits.
On Monday 19 June NCA officers, with support from Northumbria Police and Home Office Immigration Enforcement, executed search warrants at addresses in Newcastle, Gateshead and Manchester.
Officers seized thousands of pounds in cash from the various properties, as well as one round of ammunition and pepper spray.
Ten potential victims were safeguarded and received support from Gateshead and Newcastle City Councils, the NHS, and the vulnerable persons teams within the NCA and Northumbria Police.
The operation in the UK was part of an international day of action led by the Romanian authorities and co-ordinated through Europol and Eurojust. Search warrants were also executed in the Czech Republic, Switzerland, Germany and Romania where a further 30 suspected members of the criminal network were arrested.
Brian Shaw, NCA north east operations manager, said:
“The criminal networks involved in human trafficking often coerce people to move across continents on the basis of false promises of a better life.
“In reality, victims are treated as commodities and end up being as victims of sexual exploitation, domestic servitude or forced labour.
“Tackling modern slavery and human trafficking is a priority for the NCA and we have had tremendous support from local authorities and colleagues across law enforcement to disrupt this network and safeguard victims.”
Superintendent Peter Bent, of Northumbria Police's Crime Department, 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.
"Modern day slavery is a horrendous crime but it is often hidden and we rely on the vigilance of people in our local communities to report any suspicious behaviour to us.
"We all have a responsibility to help protect those who may be vulnerable and we believe that Safeguarding is everyone's business."
If you suspect someone you know may be a victim of modern slavery, please report it to the Modern Slavery Helpline on 08000 121 700. If you think they are in danger, please call your local police force on 101 (or 999 if a crime is in progress).