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Germany Breaks Up Sex Slave Ring

February 27, 1998

DUESSELDORF, Germany (AP) _ In one of their biggest operations ever against organized crime, German police raided bordellos, apartments and refugee homes to break up a gang believed responsible for forcing Eastern European women into slavery as prostitutes.

Sixteen suspects _ Italians, Albanians and Turks _ were arrested Thursday and police were looking for six others. They were expected to face charges of trafficking in human beings, kidnapping and rape, authorities said.

Two of the 24 women freed were kept locked up for seven months without ever seeing daylight, said Hans-Joachim Sproede of the North Rhine-Westphalia state police. The others were allowed onto a balcony for brief periods.

``It was an especially sadistic form of slavery,″ he said.

The gang allegedly had been luring young women, mainly from Poland and Russia, to Germany for years and then forcing them into prostitution, beating and raping those who resisted.

State prosecutor Manfred Roesner said the gang practiced ``a modern slave trade with enormous humiliation of the women.″

Even after being freed, the victims were reluctant to make statements to the police because their captors had lied to them about German law, telling them they would get 10-year prison terms for working as prostitutes even if they had been forced into it, Roesner said.

``We first have to convince the women that we are the good guys,″ he said.

Authorities refused to comment on how many women had been victimized or how much money the gang made.

The months-long investigation was complicated by allegations that three police officers from Luedenscheid were working with the gang.

Prosecutors said the three face possible charges of accessory to kidnapping for allegedly tipping the gang off to raids in exchange for free sex with the women.

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