The French National Police (Police Nationale), the Romanian Police (Poliția Română) and the Spanish National Police (Policía Nacional), with the support of Europol and Eurojust, dismantled a criminal network involved in human trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation. For the purposes of this investigation, Europol set up an operational task force that led to the identification of the leader of the criminal gang.
The police action day on 22 March of this year resulted in:
- 16 house searches (10 in France and 6 in Romania).
- 7 arrests (2 in France and 5 in Romania, including one high-value target identified by the law enforcement authorities involved).
- 32 victims identified, mostly Romanian nationals (13 in France and 19 in Romania).
- The seizures included digital equipment and mobile phones, cannabis from an indoor laboratory, luxury vehicles and more than 23,000 euros in cash.
From the evidence collected during the investigation it seems that the criminal network had been active since 2014. The members of the criminal gang manipulated their victims into prostitution for the financial benefit of the criminal network.
The modus operandi was to target vulnerable victims in financially and emotionally unstable situations with the so-called “lover boy” method. The criminal network recruited them with false loving relationships, seduced them with expensive gifts and promises of a better life abroad and forced them to continue working by using threats and acts of violence against them or their family members. Using this technique, the criminals pocketed more than 400,000 euros by exploiting vulnerable victims from Romania.
Investigators have already identified 28 victims exploited by the gang in France. Evidence indicates that the criminal network channelled about €1.3 million in illegal proceeds to Romania through money transfer companies and transferred more assets via cash couriers.
This money comes from 250 localities in 25 different states. 80% of the money transfers were made from internet cafes in Barcelona and were addressed to the organisation’s leaders in Romania. Subsequently, they laundered the criminal proceeds in Romania through investments in real estate and luxury goods. They also used part of the illegal profits to finance various criminal activities.
In 2020, together with France, Spain and Romania, Europol set up an operational task force to jointly target this criminal network. The specific set-up of this task force allowed investigators to easily identify the modus operandi of the criminal group and use the information gathered to identify the leaders and their associates.
Europol coordinated the operational activities, facilitated the exchange of information and provided analytical support. It also deployed an expert to Romania to cross-check operational information in real time and support the investigators on the ground.
Eurojust created a joint investigation team (JIT) between France and Romania. Five suspects were arrested as a result of five European arrest warrants.