United Kingdom’s Isleworth Crown Court yesterday sentenced a Nigerian woman,
Franca Asemota, to 22 years in jail after she was found guilty of attempting to traffic Nigerian girls through Heathrow Airport to work as sex workers in brothels across Europe.
Also, Anambra State Police Command yesterday paraded three suspected child traffickers who specialised on kidnap and sales of children.
This was disclosed in Awka by the Anambra Police Public Relations Officer, Nkiruka Nwode (ASP), who said one of the suspects, a 29-year-old pregnant woman, Chidimma Okoli was arrested with two children stolen from Udoma village in Umuoji, Idemili South Local Government Area, under the Nkpor Bridge, near Onitsha.
Ms. Asemota, 38, was found guilty on Wednesday of a 12-count charge that includes conspiracy to traffic persons for sexual exploitation, trafficking persons outside of the UK for sexual exploitation, and assisting unlawful immigration.
She was part of a criminal network that trafficked girls, boys and women from Nigeria to Europe using threats to guarantee their compliance.
Ms. Asemota, who was identified as a trafficking suspect in 2012, fled from Italy to Nigeria when some of her co-conspirators were arrested by Immigration Enforcement investigators.
She spent time in Europe before the National Crime Agency, NCA, tracked her down to Nigeria.
In an operation co-ordinated by the NCA, she was arrested by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, in Benin City in March 2015.
Once her identity was confirmed, Ms. Asemota was extradited back to the UK in January this year.
After a four-week trial, the Isleworth Crown Court found her guilty of conspiracy to traffic for sexual exploitation and assisting unlawful immigration.
The head of the Immigration Enforcement crime team, David Fairclough described Ms. Asemota as the “lynchpin of a trafficking ring which targeted vulnerable young women in Nigeria, promising them a brighter future working in Europe.”
Mr. Fairclough said it however became clear soon that what she claimed to be doing was far different, as the victims, some who were as young as 13, were told they would be sold into prostitution.
“Asemota travelled with the girls in order to threaten them and keep them in line. Trafficking is a despicable crime, as this case shows. We work closely with our law enforcement colleagues internationally to identify the criminal gangs responsible and put them before the courts,” Mr. Fairclough said.
The head of the NCA’s UK Human Trafficking Centre, Martin French, said: “Franca Asemota and her criminal network took advantage of these vulnerable young women in some of the worst ways possible.
They promised them a better life but in reality treated them as nothing more than a commodity to be sold into slavery.
“Asemota thought she could evade arrest by fleeing Europe and hiding in Nigeria. But the NCA’s partnerships give us global reach and mean international borders are no barrier to justice.
“This conviction is the result of many years of dogged investigation and co-operation between the NCA, Immigration Enforcement and our law enforcement colleagues both at home and overseas.”
Ms. Asemota’s gang targeted teenage girls in remote Nigerian villages, some of whom had never left their home area before, deceiving them that educational work awaited them in Europe.
“The girls would stay with her before leaving, and in interviews with specialist
officers from the NCA’s Vulnerable Persons Team many of the girls told how they referred to her as Auntie Franca.
“Asemota travelled with the girls on flights from Lagos, Nigeria, to Heathrow, between August 2011 and May 2012, with the intention of reaching France. They remained airside during the transit at Heathrow so were not subject to Border Force passport checks.
“However, the trafficking attempts were prevented when French Authorities identified the girl’s false documents on arrival in France. When they were then returned to the UK, Border Force officers carried out further investigations and the case was quickly referred to Immigration Enforcement criminal investigations.”
Five of Asemota’s victims gave evidence against her during the trial. One of them was rescued from prostitution in Montpellier, France, during a joint operation by Immigration Enforcement and the NCA.
The cases were part of Operation Hudson, an Immigration Enforcement-led investigation targeting a number organised crime groups suspected of trafficking young women, via London, for the purposes of sexual exploitation.
Police parade pregnant woman, medical doctors in Anambra
In similar vein, Anambra State Police Command yesterday paraded three suspected child traffickers who specialised on kidnap and sales of children.
Briefing newsmen at the police headquarters in Awka, the state Police Public Relations Officer, ASP Nkiruka Nwode said that one 29-year-old pregnant woman, Chidimma Okoli was arrested with two children stolen from Udoma village in Umuoji, Idemili South, under the bridge at Nkpor, near Onitsha.
She said the recovered children were stolen on August 2, 2016, and the syndicate was made up of five persons comprising three men and two women, including two medical doctors, a nurse and an evangelist.
According to Nwode, the police were still on the trail of an 11-month-old male child stolen by the same gang from the family of Mr. Simon Mbonu in Ogidi on July 15.
She said the arrested suspects were still under investigation and would be charged to court soon.
According to her, “This gang is into child trafficking, on Aug. 1, one Ms Chidimma Okorie stole two children from Udoma village, Umuoji and following the intelligence report, we arrested at under the bridge at Nkpor.
“She led us to other members of the group including these two medical doctors here while two others, a nurse and evangelist are still at large.
“The doctors here are those who confirm the genotype of the victims and also source for buyers.
“In the course of our investigation she confessed to have stolen a child from the family of Mr. Simon Mbonu on July 15,”she said.
On her part, Okoli confessed to the crime, saying she was lured into the business three months ago for financial reasons.
Okorie , a mother of five who said she hailed from Amasiri, Afikpo in Ebonyi State, said she was paid N50,000 for each child sold.
“We are three women that were taken from Amasiri ato a shrine in Asaba, where they collected our blood with kolanut, threateningus that whoever reveals the secret when caught will die.
“As I am four months pregnant, I have already sold the child in my womb for N100, 000 when delivered,” Okoli stated.
She asked for forgiveness and prayed not to return to the illicit trade.
Also speaking, one of the suspects, Dr Cosmas Ugorji who said he practises at Awada, Onitsha, said she was not aware of the activities of the group.
Ugorji said he only conducted laboratory test from the blood samples brought to his hospital by the accused.
He said, “The issue of child trafficking, I don’t know where that one emanated.”
A mother of one of the victims, Mrs. Chioma Osegwo, from Umuoji, confirmed the stealing of her 30 months old son and expressed gratitude to the Nigerian Police.
She said the suspect had come to the village to ask for somebody but made way with the children who were asked to lead her to the place.
“One man told me that he saw one pregnant woman with some children walking down and by God’s grace, I got t a place called ‘Isi engine main road at Nkpor and saw other three children that accompanied her with my child.
“They told me that the woman gave them #130 to take bike back to their house, and that she would pick another bike for the two children.
“At second thought, I decided to check them at the flyover New Parts, Nkpor, suddenly I saw the woman with the children. She had already changed their footwears and I started shouting which attracted the passers-by, then she was arrested by the police,” Osegwo narrated.