A sex trafficking gang luring vulnerable women to Scotland has been busted in a series of raids across Europe.
Guns, knives, luxury cars and cash were seized by officers and 24 traffickers were arrested in raids in Scotland, England and Romania yesterday.
Trafficking victims who had been snared by the violent gang were also rescued in the UK and Romania.
The operation spearheaded by Police Scotland saw four properties in Glasgow and Aberdeen targeted as part of a series of co-ordinated dawn raids.
Ten suspected gang members, of Romanian nationality, were arrested in the UK including seven in Scotland.
A further 14 suspected gang members were nabbed by police who raided 23 properties in Romania.
As well as the arrests, mobile phones and documents detailing the large-scale sex trafficking operation were seized – as well as evidence of money laundering.
Detective Inspector Adrian Wallis, who led the operation, said it was the culmination of a major investigation stretching back to June last year.
The raids saw more than 130 UK officers deployed including members of Police Scotland’s National Human Trafficking Unit, the National Crime Agency and Romanian Police’s Directorate for Countering Organised Crime Trafficking in Human Beings Department.
DI Wallis said: “The investigation isn’t over yet, however, today’s action should send a very clear message, trafficking won’t be tolerated in Scotland, and we will continue to work with partners, nationally and internationally, to identify those involved in slavery and exploitation and to bring them to justice.”
DI Wallis had co-ordinated the operation from the Scottish Crime Campus in Gartcosh in Glasgow.
A number of the properties raided were suspected to be operating as brothels while others were home addresses of members of the organised crime gang.
DI Wallis said: “It was a massive operation. These sorts of actions are difficult enough to co-ordinate in your own force area but this included England and Romania.
“It doesn’t matter how much you plan, you never know what you are going to get until you get through the door because of the nature of these individuals who are constantly moving between locations.
“We don’t know how many people we find when we go into these addresses but we got exactly what we were hoping for.”
The inquiry will last for several months, with follow-up raids and arrests expected across the UK and Romania.
DI Wallis said: “We won’t stand for human trafficking. We will use everything we have to throw at these individuals and this operation has proved that.”
Tthe Romanian authorities said the women being used by the gangs were vulnerable and had been duped by the promise of a better life.
Those not already in Scotland were set to be trafficked illegally into the UK. The women were mostly from rural areas, who came from broken families and were poverty striken.
It is understood they were seduced by some of the gang members, who promised them a relationship, a home and the trappings of a comfotable life but then forced them into sex work.
It is believed the women were advertised on websites and sold for sex with all the money going to the crime gang.
Romanian authorities said: “Some young women were allegedly physically and mentally abused by members of the organized criminal group.”
Di Wallis said any potential victims would be given full support from agencies such as Scotland’s Trafficking Awareness Raising Alliance who were on the scene of the raids. He said: “More important than anything for me, is identifying and safeguarding victims.”
Rob Richardson, head of the UK National Crime Agency’s Modern Slavery and Human Trafficking Unit, said the public could help combat sex trafficking. He said:” Modern slavery victims are often hidden in plain sight, and we need the public to recognise the signs and report any suspicions they might have to the police.”
Detective Superintendent Fil Capaldi, head of Police Scotland’s National Human Trafficking Unit, warned traffickers that they would not prosper in Scotland.
He said: “Human trafficking, exploitation and modern slavery has no place in Scotland. Organised crime groups who enslave and traffic people do it for no other reason than financial gain.
“People are treated as a commodity that can be bought and sold, and the traffickers have no thought or consideration for the impact of their actions on their victims or for the communities in which the victims are exploited.
“Borders are meaningless to traffickers. Their illegal trade has a global reach and crosses national and international boundaries which is why our response has to be co-ordinated across agencies and through international co-operation.
Romanian ambassador the UK, Dan Mihalache, said: “May I congratulate the men and women of the two services for their hard work and dedication, and say how much we appreciate the results and reassure our partners of our continuous cooperation.
“We look forward to seeing new barriers against justice being brought down, more victims receiving the reparations they deserve and more culprits taken off our cities’ streets.”