BRUSSELS (AP) — About 1.5 million euros ($1.6 million) in cash were seized during raids in Belgium targeting an alleged criminal organization suspected of sending Chinese women to Europe and forcing them into prostitution, the federal prosecutor’s office said Wednesday.
In addition, investigators took hold of four tons of coins with an unspecified value, prosecutors said. Belgian police took control of several buildings during the raids in Antwerp, Charleroi, Louvain, Neufchâteau and Brussels, prosecutors said.
After a two-year investigation, some 300 police officers took part in Tuesday’s raids targeting human traffickers. The prosecutor’s office described the operation as one Belgium’s biggest targeting human traffickers in recent years.
A total of 27 people were detained, including nine who appeared before a judge and charged with human trafficking and money laundering. Three suspects had Belgian nationality, and the rest were of Chinese origin.
Police raided more than two dozen locations across Belgium, discovering 20 alleged victims, all of them from China. Searches also took place in Spain and Switzerland, where two people were detained, according to the prosecutor’s office.
Prosecutors said Chinese sex workers are increasingly present in Belgium, particularly in the capital, Brussels. They said the criminal organization targeted in the raids allegedly recruited women in China and transferred them to Europe, where they were “sexually exploited” and forced to surrender most of their earnings.
The alleged prostitution ring used online rental platforms, hotels or vacation homes and websites specializing in sex advertisements for appointment bookings, prosecutors said, adding that the victims were often moved from one place to another across the continent.
Some of the victims were sheltered at a specialized reception center, prosecutors said.
The European Union’s judicial cooperation agency, Eurojust, and the bloc’s crime agency, Europol, took part in the investigation.
Copyright © 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.