Operatives of the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP), National Crime Agency (NCA) of the British Government and Guardia Civil, the Spanish Law Enforcement Agency have in a joint operation disrupted activities of a Nigerian organised crime gang, Eiye Confraternity in Spain. 39 women victims of sexual exploitation were rescued in the operation.
The international investigation into the organised criminal network began when a victim made a report to the Spanish authorities, detailing how she arrived in Spain along with a number of other girls.
The victims, all Nigerian nationals, and many under the age of 18, are believed to have undergone ‘Voodoo-Juju’ rituals in Nigeria to coerce them if they did not comply with orders given by the gang leaders. They were then moved by boat to Libya and Italy, before arriving in Spain.
The women were forced to live in cave-like houses, in unsafe and unsanitary conditions, unable to leave and sexually exploited for the sole purpose of financial gain for the gang leaders, with all money eventually ending up in their hands in Nigeria.
The money are said to be laundered through the honour-based Hawala system, popular with organised crime gangs. Investigators found the gang had numerous women under their control working as prostitutes to pay off their debts with Eiye Confraternity – upwards of 30,000 euros each – for the cost of moving the victims into Europe.
NCA officers worked with partners to develop intelligence on the network, including carrying out surveillance on those suspected to be involved, and working with NAPTIP colleagues to build up information about the scale of the abuse and exploitation.
The investigation was aided in Nigeria by NAPTIP investigators who are members of the British assisted Joint Border Task Force (JBTF) who travelled to Spain to participate and support the Guardia Civil and NCA during the arrest phases.
A total of 89 people – including the leader of the gang – have been arrested on suspicion of association to criminal organisations, modern slavery and money laundering. Forty three remain on remand in prison in Spain, following raids at 41 addresses across the country in November last year.
On 16 January 2018 NCA officers also arrested an alleged Nigerian Madame living in Middleton, Greater Manchester, believed to be controlling some of the victims in Spain, and paying money to the Organised Criminal Gang (OCG) back in Nigeria. She remains in custody awaiting extradition to Spain where she faces prosecution.
Deputy Director Tom Dowdall, Modern Slavery and Human Trafficking threat lead for the NCA, said: “This was a complex and extensive operation with deep-rooted organisation both in Nigeria and Spain.
“Eiye Confraternity was a highly organised crime gang, exploiting young woman for lengthy periods of time, keeping them in horrendous conditions where they knew there would be no escape.
“The NCA’s international reach was crucial to this success, and we will continue to work with agencies in Nigeria and Spain to bring those responsible through the court system. Modern slavery remains a priority for UK law enforcement.”
Reacting to this development, the Director-General of NAPTIP, Dame Julie Okah-Donli expressed satisfaction with the outcome of the joint operations. She said that the outcome was in line with her vision of pursuing human traffickers who are Nigerian nationals to any part of the world where they may be operating. ‘’Like I said in my Maiden Press Conference, if we miss them here on their way out they will meet us waiting for them on arrival at destination’’, she said.
She also expressed appreciation to the British and Spanish Law Enforcement Agencies for the confidence reposed on NAPTIP Agents in working together in such joint operations.