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Italian, Dutch police bust Nigerian drug, prostitution ring


Italian and Dutch police on Tuesday announced the dismantling of a vast Nigerian crime ring that smuggled cocaine and heroin into Europe and forced dozens of women into prostitution.

The joint operation coordinated by Naples' anti-mafia police identified a "dangerous Nigerian criminal organisation" from the southern region around the economic capital Lagos, chief anti-mafia prosecutor Pietro Grasso told a news conference.

The ring channelled drugs and young women, often minors, to several European countries, he told reporters, who was flanked by Amsterdam's deputy police chief Johan Hartskamp, his partner in an investigation that was launched in 2006.

Arrest warrants were issued Tuesday for 66 suspected members of the ring, Grasso said, adding that six arrests have already been made in The Netherlands.

Police have also arrested nearly 150 "mules" of various nationalities used by the group to carry heroin and cocaine to European destinations aboard low-cost airlines flying to secondary airports, Grasso said.

Since 2006, Dutch police have identified more than 100 Nigerian women including many minors who were forced into prostitution in west Africa and then sent to Amsterdam where they were assured that they would win political asylum under liberal Dutch laws covering human trafficking.

But once the women had residency papers for the European Union, the crime syndicate forced them again into prostitution and sent them to work in Italy, France, Ireland, Britain and Spain, among other countries, the joint police task force said in a statement.

Grasso, praising the Nigerian police for their cooperation, said a "high-ranking" Nigerian police official was arrested in his country after he tipped off the crime syndicate when investigations were under way.

A ledger was found at the Amsterdam home of one of the organisation's ringleaders recording the movement of several hundred thousand euros as well as the names and the addresses of some 300 members of the network.

Italian police say most were from Lagos and Benin City, also in southern Nigeria.

2008 Jan 15