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Spain Breaks Up a Trafficking Ring for Male Prostitution

MADRID — from www.nytimes.com – The Spanish police said Tuesday that it had dismantled for the first time a human trafficking network bringing men rather than women into the country to work as prostitutes.

The police said 14 people, almost all of them Brazilian, were arrested over recent weeks as part of an inquiry into the network’s activities begun in February.

The sex workers were recruited in Brazil, with their travel costs to Spain initially covered by the trafficking network’ organizers in return for a pledge to work subsequently for them, according to a police statement. Most of the recruits, however, expected to work as models or nightclub dancers, although some allegedly knew that they were coming to Spain to offer sex.

The police estimated that between 60 and 80 men were brought to Spain by the network, most of them in their 20s and originating from Brazil’s northern state of Maranhão. They reached Spain by passing through third countries.

The network covered the whole of Spain, with the sex workers placed in, and then switched regularly between, apartments whose landlords received half of the money earned by them, as well as €200, or about $255, to cover food and lodging, officials said.

The police released a video of one of the apartments in which some of the arrests were made, with bunk beds and mattresses cramped into neon-lit rooms. The gang, meanwhile, advertised pictures of the men on Web sites as well as in classified newspaper ads. The sex workers were allegedly provided with Viagra, cocaine and other stimulants to help keep them available for sex 24 hours a day. Most of their customers are suspected to have been men.

The bulk of the arrests occurred on the island of Majorca, including that of the Brazilian accused of being the ringleader, whose identity was not disclosed by the police. The prostitutes ended up owing the network as much as €4,000 each and were sometimes threatened with death if they refused to pay the debt, according to the Spanish police.

Although it is the first time that police officers have broken up a professional male prostitution trafficking network, five people were arrested in 2006 in Spain’s western region of Extremadura for their involvement in an illegal Brazilian prostitution business. More recently, the police have dismantled several gangs exploiting female sex workers, generally from Eastern Europe or Africa. In July, 105 people were arrested for their involvement in a dozen prostitution centers around Madrid in one of the largest clampdowns to date.

A police spokeswoman who asked not to be identified said that Brazilian officials had been involved. Some of the prostitutes were also placed in custody for working illegally in Spain.

Ana Palacio, a former Spanish foreign minister, said that Spanish police officials were benefiting considerably from greater cross-border cooperation in their efforts to combat human trafficking. Cooperation, particularly with the French police, has also been crucial recently in the arrests of several leaders of ETA, the Basque separatist group.

“We have to continue fighting against these networks because there is a terrible human rights dimension to their activities and this does require better police coordination,” Ms. Palacio said. “Thankfully what we are seeing, also in the context of counterterrorism, is much greater willingness to share data and other information” among police forces.

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