Monday, November 07, 2005

Brazil busts international sex-trafficking ring

November 7, 2005 12:00am
Source: EFE News Service

Police arrested 15 people Wednesday on charges of conspiring to transport undocumented Brazilian women to Europe and force them into prostitution, authorities said.

Taken into custody were five Italian nationals, nine Brazilians and an Uruguayan, according to a statement issued by the Federal Police office in this northeastern city.

The law enforcement operation, which was carried out in cooperation with Interpol and Italian police, also led to the closure of an inn, two nightclubs, a bar and a brothel in Natal, capital of the state of Rio Grande do Norte.

The Federal Police said the sex-trafficking ring was directed by Italians thought to be linked to Sacra Corona Unita, a crime syndicate based in the Puglia region of southern Italy.

"The group operated in Brazil since the end of 2004 and acquired several commercial establishments in Natal," said the police communique.

Some 100 federal and state police officers deployed before dawn Wednesday to carry out raids and arrest the 15 suspects on charges of sex trafficking, procurement, criminal conspiracy, money laundering and tax evasion.

One of the Italian citizens picked up in the operation was Giuseppe Ammirabile, identified by Brazilian police as the leader of the ring and wanted in his own country for trafficking in drugs, weapons and prostitutes, among other offenses.

"According to information from Interpol and from the Italian and Spanish police attaches in Brazil, Ammirabile is head of a criminal organization in the Italian region of Bari," the Federal Police said.

The other four Italians apprehended Wednesday have rap sheets that include arrests for extortion, smuggling, sex trafficking and murder. Suspect Paolo Quaranta, described as Ammirabile's bodyguard, "was sentenced in Canada to life in prison for homicide," the Federal Police statement said.

Brazilian authorities said all five of the Italians arrested had links to Colombian drug traffickers and to Italy-based crime mobs such as Sacra Corona Unita, 'Ndrangheta and the Camorra.

Most of the Brazilians detained in the operation were allegedly acting as front men or managers on behalf of their foreign bosses, with some listed as the nominal owners of the establishments padlocked by police on Wednesday.

The Uruguayan suspect, identified as Alfredo Gustavo Labounoro Juhos, was the manager of one of the night clubs.