The Romanian Police (Poliția Română) and the United Kingdom Intelligence Directorate, supported by Europol and Eurojust, dismantled a criminal network involved in human trafficking for sexual exploitation and money laundering. The suspects were also involved in other criminal activities including aggravated property crime and drug trafficking.
The action day on 29 March led to:
- 18 house searches (11 in Romania and 7 in the UK);
- 14 suspects (4 in Romania and 10 in the UK) were subject to judicial measures;
- Four victims, most of whom were Romanian nationals, identified in the UK;
- Seizures included several mobile phones, drugs, weapons, bullets of different calibres, over EUR 60 000 in cash and 20 credit cards.
Criminals earned up to EUR 1 800 per victim per day
Active since 2020, the criminal network lured vulnerable Romanian females into prostitution in the UK. The members of the network promised victims employment or relationships, and targeted individuals from poor backgrounds seeking a way to earn money to send back home to support their families. Young and impressionable, many of the victims met the Romanian males via social media platforms and believed they had a romantic relationship with them. Once tricked, the female victims were forced into prostitution. The members of the criminal network controlled their behaviour by taking their documents and money and threatening to harm or kill their family members and children back in Romania. It is believed that the criminal network was earning up to EUR 1 800 per day per victim. The large amount of criminal proceeds generated was transferred back to Romania via cash couriers. The investigation suggests that more than 100 females have become victims of the criminal network since 2020.
The lover boy trick
The lover boy technique is widely used by criminals to recruit victims confronted with economic and social hardship. The suspects target their victims’ vulnerabilities and seduce them with expensive gifts and promises of a better life abroad. This is the reason many women leave their families in search of love and new opportunities in other countries. However, once they find themselves in their new home, they are forced into prostitution to earn money for their handler. The victims are lured with affection, violence and threats against them and their families back home.
Europol coordinated the operational activities, facilitated the exchange of information and provided analytical support. On the action day, Europol deployed an expert to Luton, United Kingdom to cross-check operational information in real time and support the investigators on the ground.
Eurojust set up a joint investigation team (JIT) between the United Kingdom and Romania in 2021 to coordinate the judicial cooperation.