THE HAGUE, Netherlands – Police across Europe and in New York arrested 20 people suspected of smuggling young girls out of Nigeria and forcing them to work as prostitutes after intimidating them in voodoo rituals, Dutch prosecutors said Wednesday.
Thirteen of the suspects were arrested in a series of coordinated raids in cities across the Netherlands, the national prosecutor's office said in a statement. Police also found 10 illegal immigrants, who were turned over to the immigration service.
Acting on requests from Dutch authorities, police in New York; Madrid, Spain; Antwerp, Belgium; and the central British city of Coventry also arrested five Nigerian suspects. A sixth Nigerian was arrested last week in Dublin, Ireland.
Prosecutors believe the gang had been smuggling underage Nigerian girls into the Netherlands for years using fake travel documents before shipping them to other parts of Europe to work as prostitutes.
"The people smugglers gave the victims false travel papers, airline tickets and instructions on how to apply for asylum at (Amsterdam's) Schiphol Airport," the statement said.
"The youngsters were also under pressure by voodoo," the statement said. "In Nigeria, they were forced to swear an oath to a voodoo priest to pay back a so-called debt. This had to be done with the proceeds of prostitution."
For a year, Dutch authorities had been investigating the disappearance of young Nigerians from asylum seeker centers. Since January 2006, about 140 underage Nigerians have disappeared from the centers, which are not tightly guarded. Several girls have been found working as prostitutes in France, Italy and Spain, prosecutors said.
The suspects arrested in the Netherlands were to be arraigned this week and the national prosecutor's office requested the extradition of the suspects arrested in the United States, Ireland, Spain, Belgium and Britain.
They are suspected of people trafficking, involvement in a criminal organization, falsifying travel documents, fraud and money laundering.