Multi-country investigation by Europol leads to several arrests, including in Malta, related to Europe-wide sex trafficking and prostitution ring

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At least one suspect in a Europe-wide sex trafficking and prostitution ring has been arrested in Malta, the EU’s police agency said on Wednesday.

Operation Webmaster targeted a Finnish organised criminal group involved in human trafficking for sexual exploitation and money laundering. The joint operation led to six arrests, 16 website shutdowns and multiple seizures of cash and luxury goods. Following the action day on 26 March 2019, the suspects’ bank accounts in 12 different countries were frozen. With support from Europol and Eurojust, the Spanish National Police (Policía Nacional) joined forces with national authorities from 14* other countries to bring down the trafficking ring.

The ring’s alleged ringleader was arrested in Marbella in Spain, with two more suspects caught in Spain and others in Malta, Romania and Finland.

A Joint Investigation Team was set up between Finland, Spain and Sweden to speed up the investigations. European investigation orders have been issued to Bulgaria, Estonia, Germany, Malta, Romania, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom. Issuing International Letter of Requests to China, Panama and Russia facilitated the financial investigation into the money laundering scheme.

On the joint action day, law enforcement authorities in Finland, Hong Kong, Malta, Romania and Spain operated simultaneously. Seventeen house and bank searches were carried out and six suspects were arrested. The seizures included luxury cars, jewellery, approximately €30 000 in cash, digital evidence and documentation related to the money laundering investigation, and real estate in Finland. Company shares and bank accounts with €1.5 million were frozen.

Europol has supported the joint investigation by organising coordination and operational meetings and providing analytical support since the establishment of the Joint Investigation Team in 2016.

Europol supported the action day by deploying experts in fighting human trafficking, cybercrime and asset recovery to three of the countries involved in the operational activities to cross-check operational information in real time against Europol’s databases. Europol activated the Virtual Command Post at the Coordination Centre set up at Eurojust to coordinate the action and supported the seizure of the online domains, collaborating with US hosting service providers. Europol also prepared the ‘splash’ page appearing on the website after the domain seizure.

*The following countries were involved in the investigation: ten EU Member States (Bulgaria, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Malta, the Netherlands, Romania, Spain, Sweden, United Kingdom) and China, Colombia, Panama, Russia, the United States.

via Europol

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