A woman known as the lynchpin of a Nigerian organised crime group has been sentenced to 22 years in prison for tricking and trafficking young woman from Africa into Europe to work in the sex trade.
Franca Asemota, 38, was arrested in Benin City, Nigeria, in March 2015 following an operation co-ordinated by the National Crime Agency, working in partnership with the Nigerian Economic and Financial Crime Commission. Once her identity was confirmed Asemota was then extradited back to the UK in January this year (see below).
Following a four week trial at Isleworth Crown Court in west London she was found guilty of conspiracy to traffic for sexual exploitation and assisting unlawful immigration on Wednesday 3 August. Asemota was given the 22 year jail term on Thursday 4 August.
Asemota’s gang targeted teenage girls in remote Nigerian villages, some of whom had never left their home area before, telling 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”.
However, once on the journey to the airport they were told that they would be working as prostitutes and were threatened with physical violence if they tried to raise the alarm.
Asemota travelled with the girls on flights from Lagos, Nigeria, to Heathrow with the intention of reaching France. They remained airside during the transit at Heathrow so were not subject to UK 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 tracked down to France by Immigration Enforcement and NCA investigators and rescued from prostitution in Montpellier.
Martin French, head of the NCA’s UK Human Trafficking Centre, 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, Home Office Immigration Enforcement and our law enforcement colleagues both at home and overseas.”
The investigation was part of Operation Hudson, operation targeting a number organised crime groups suspected of trafficking young women, via London, for the purposes of sexual exploitation.
It involved officers from the NCA’s UK Human Trafficking Centre working with agency specialists in the UK and West Africa, and in partnership with investigators from Home Office Immigration Enforcement, who led the investigation.
David Fairclough, from the Immigration Enforcement crime team, said:
“Asemota was the lynchpin of a trafficking ring who targeted vulnerable young women in Nigeria, promising them a brighter future working in Europe.
“But it soon became clear that this was far from the truth. The victims, some 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.”
Operation Hudson has already secured the conviction of two other men involved in the trafficking network.
Odosa Usiobaifu, of Enfield, London, and David Osawaru, of Benin City, were sentenced to 14 years and nine years respectively in 2013.