Four members of an organised crime group have been convicted of trafficking offences at the High Court in Glasgow today.
Three men and one woman were convicted today, marking the conclusion of a five-year-long investigation undertaken by Police Scotland.
The inquiry focused on an organised crime group (OCG) who were transporting women across international borders into the UK and finally Glasgow, where some were sexually exploited before being sold into sham marriages.
Police Scotland investigators worked with officers from several UK forces, with Europol, Eurojust and the Slovak Police Force to form a joint investigation team (JIT). A parallel court case is ongoing in Slovakia featuring a further six crime group affiliates.
Commenting on the conviction, Detective Inspector Steven McMillan, senior investigating officer, said:
“This has been a complex and challenging international investigation. We identified 14 victims, all of whom were vulnerable and all of whom were targeted because of that vulnerability by people within their own community.
“They were transported across Europe by gang members, into the UK and then to Glasgow. Some of them were sexually exploited before being sold and forced into sham marriages.
“One of the greatest challenges we faced was when the decision was taken to prosecute in both Scotland and Slovakia. We had to ensure that two jurisdictions that didn’t naturally fit together worked together to ensure a successful outcome for these women. We’ve got that today.”
Detective Superintendent Fil Capaldi, head of Police Scotland’s National Human Trafficking Unit, said:
“This detailed and complex investigation into a Slovakian Organised Crime Group spanned UK and international jurisdictions.
“Throughout, we worked closely with other UK forces, Europol, Eurojust and the Slovak Police Force, without whom we wouldn’t have been able to ensure that those involved faced justice here in Scotland.
“Human trafficking is an insidious crime. This crime group exploited vulnerable women using violence, threats and false promises all for financial gain without a single thought for the suffering and terror these women had to endure. Yet those women bravely spoke out both in Scotland and Slovakia and I hope that today’s verdict provides closure, so they can now move on in some way and rebuild their lives.
“Police Scotland will pursue traffickers relentlessly. We will continue to work with our network of contacts in the UK, with international law enforcement and other agencies to rid our country of trafficking and all forms of exploitation.”
Georgios Raskos, Head of Europol’s Analysis Project on Human Trafficking, said: “Trafficking in human beings has for too long been perceived as a high-profit, low-risk activity. This perception has to change. This action with Police Scotland and Slovakia sends a clear message that Europol and its partners are determined to bring to justice criminals who think they can exploit people for profit. Complex operations like this across jurisdictions underline the need for cross-border collaboration between law enforcement and all stakeholders to ensure that together we can enhance our prevention, protection and prosecution efforts. Europol strongly supports EU Member States' investigations in this area, and we will continue our efforts in fighting this crime, not only to fight the offenders, but to return to freedom all those who have suffered as victims.”
Slovak police officers from the country’s National Unit for Combating Illegal Migration of the Border also worked on the investigation.
Support for the victims in Scotland was provided by TARA. Bronagh Andrew, operations manager at TARA, said:
“The sad truth is people are being trafficked from all over the world to meet the demands of the global sex industry. Trafficking is an issue of growing concern in Scotland. It is a crime perpetrated by brutal and ruthless criminals who seek to make money from the exploitation and misery of others.
“Those who buy sex must also share responsibility as they fuel the demand the traffickers feed off. The suffering of the women who are bought and sold for sex will be barely even a consideration for the traffickers and their customers, if at all. Raising awareness of this appalling industry is vital to disrupt the criminals and assist the authorities in tackling this problem.
“This case gives a clear message to traffickers – and will hopefully give women the confidence and belief that they will be helped and they will be supported.”