A Bulgarian gang that used prostitutes as honey traps before robbing wealthy tourists in Marbella has been smashed by Spanish police. Police raided 21 properties in Spain and 15 in Bulgaria in a joint operation.
Thirteen women, forced to work as prostitutes on the streets of the luxury resort of Puerto Banus, were “liberated.”
Twenty-six suspected gang members were arrested in Spain and another eight in Bulgaria on Tuesday (July 5) after an operation overseen by Europol.
Europol said the operation had dismantled a “criminal network of Bulgarian origin involved in human trafficking.”
The women were reportedly taken out in groups of six or seven to Puerto Banus, a luxury marina and casino complex near Marbella, Spain. They were guarded by women members of the gang to make sure they did not run off or alert the authorities.
The Bulgarian gang was attempting to take full control of prostitution in Marbella and neighboring Torremolinos.
Europol said the raids also led to the seizure of 50,000 euros (US$56,600) in cash, 12 luxury watches, including six Rolexes, and a “significant” amount of drugs.
Six properties and 18 cars have been seized by police and dozens of bank accounts frozen, mainly in Spain.
The investigation began in 2014 when Spanish police detected the network trafficking women there from Bulgaria.
Both countries are European Union members and there is no border control so women can be brought from one country to the other, by road via Romania, Hungary, Austria, Italy and France, without any checks on their identities or whether they are traveling of their own free will.
“They recruited vulnerable women in Bulgaria by luring them with the promise of a better life, either by abusing their precarious financial situation or by resorting to other known recruitment methods like the ‘lover boy,’ ” Europol said in a statement.
When they arrived in Spain they suddenly realized they had been tricked but by then they had been forced to become prostitutes and were threatened with violence if they refused.
The gang also threatened violence against the Bulgarian women’s children and other relatives back home.
But the gang was not satisfied with merely making money through prostitution. They also tasked the women with stealing their cash, credit cards and other valuable objects, sometimes after spiking the men’s drinks.
“By combining the sexual exploitation with forced criminality, the criminal group obtained huge profits,” Europol said.
“Clients were charged with the sexual services provided by the victims and at the same time being robbed of whatever cash and valuable objects they had with them,” the statement added.
“The objects were channeled to local pawnshops linked to the group and responsible for converting them into cash which was used either to purchase high value cars or transported back to Bulgaria and reinvested in other assets or activities,” it said.
In 2007, an Albanian-led gang which trafficked Russian women to Spain’s Costa Brava to work as prostitutes was smashed.