A Carlow man at the centre of a major internet-based prostitution ring was among 10 people arrested today as police smashed an international human trafficking gang.
The 47-year-old suspected sex trade boss was detained with a South African woman at a house in Pembrokeshire, South Wales, as more than a dozen brothels and offices were raided in Ireland and the North.
Undercover detectives seized the man as vice squad officers swooped on several so-called massage parlours and businesses in his home town of Carlow .
Four other women and three men were arrested in 15 raids across Ireland as officers broke up the organised crime outfit blamed for trafficking scores of women from Latin America and Africa.
A Brazilian woman was also detained on suspicion of immigration offences in Newry, Co Down, when police searched premises in the city.
The cross-Channel swoops, sparked by a UK inquiry into human trafficking codenamed Operation Pentameter 2, involved the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI), Britain’s Serious Organised Crime Agency (Soca), and An Garda Síochána.
It is understood that eight women have been rescued from brothels in the North over the past few months as police moved to break up the racket.
Another five were freed in the south and translators were tonight brought in to talk to a number of the rescued women.
The largely family-based organised crime gang has trafficked women from Brazil, Nigeria and Namibia and put them to work as prostitutes offering sex for sale on the internet and on mobile phone numbers.
Detectives also believe the gangsters controlling the prostitution racket have set up elaborate money laundering scams. Police said the next step was to strip the gangmasters of their assets.
Brothels were raided in Cavan, Drogheda, Athlone, Mullingar, Sligo, Kilkenny, Enniscorthy, Newbridge and Waterford.
Another six premises were searched in Carlow, where seven people were arrested on suspicion of organising and managing prostitution.
The four women are aged from their mid-20s to early 50s, while two of the men are in their 20s and the other in his early 30s.
Detective Chief Superintendent Essie Adair, head of the PSNI’s Organised Crime Squad, said the investigation began a year ago.
“We believe we have dismantled an organised crime gang which was operating in three jurisdictions in Europe and has links to South Africa,” Mr Adair said.
A number of computers, laptops, phones and scores of documents were seized by gardaí.
The investigation began last year as a result of inquiries being made during Operation Pentameter 2, which then led to several undercover operations and investigations developed further after tip-offs from individuals.
Speaking from Norway, Justice Minister Dermot Ahern said: “The operation underlines the great co-operation between law agencies in several jurisdictions.”
Northern Ireland Security Minister Paul Goggins said the various agencies involved would continue to work together to bring criminals before the courts.
“These crime gangs are created to make money and they view the people they traffic as mere commodities to be traded and sold for profit,” he said.
“Human trafficking is a serious crime which destroys lives and we will continue to work together to bring those involved in this heinous activity before the courts.”
The PSNI praised the Dublin-based Ruhama group, which works with prostitutes, for its help in smashing the trafficking ring.
Staff at the support group said they have worked with around 50 women in the last two years who were trafficked into the country and they estimate up to 800,000 women are smuggled across international borders each year.