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Europol: Criminal group behind forced prostitution ring dismantled

( Europol ) - With the support of Europol, Belgian, Romanian and UK Police, Italian Carabinieri Reggruppamento Operativo Speciale (ROS) have dismantled a mafia-type organised criminal group of Romanian nationals who were actively trafficking young Romanian women to Italy to exploit them through forced prostitution. As a result, 13 suspects were arrested in Italy,and another 9 in Romania and 2 in Belgium.

On 4 April 2014, Italian law enforcement authorities ran an extensive field operation in the central and northern part of the country which resulted in the execution of national and European Arrest Warrants against the members of the group operating and located in Italy. Simultaneous actions (arrests and house searches) were coordinated with Romanian and Belgian authorities which allowed the execution of warrants against the remaining members of the criminal group located in those countries. As a result of the whole investigation luxury cars, mobile phones and tablets, false identify documents and other significant evidentiary material relevant to the investigation were seized.

This was the result of a long-running human trafficking investigation led by Italy which has revealed substantial links with other crime areas, ranging from organised property crimes ('smash and grab' raids) to bodily injuries and extortion.

The investigation started in January 2012 following the detection of two rival organised crime groups (OCGs), operating in the Italian central region of Marche, who were sexually exploiting Romanian prostitutes as well committing a wide variety of property crimes. The investigation unveiled that the OCGs were systematically using mafia-style methods involving violence, intimidation, extortion and assaults, to control their prostitution business in some cities of the Marche region, with ramifications in other Italian regions. They were also fighting for control of their territory through violence, assault and car arson, affecting Romanian and Albanian communities.

The female prostitution victims were recruited in Romania and then transferred to Italy to be exploited in the sex industry. Prostitution was practiced on the streets, in houses and hotels, and advertised through dedicated websites and newspapers, with rates and places of work dictated by the organisation's leaders.

Europol actively supported this cross-border human trafficking operation and provided operational analytical support to the countries involved throughout the investigation. This included facilitating information exchange and analysis, organising operational meetings at Europol and in Italy, and delivering real-time cross-checks of all data gathered in the course of the field action through the deployment of a Europol mobile office and Europol analyst in Italy.

Based on Europol's analytical work, substantial international links have been identified in several EU Member States which may prompt further separate investigations.