Authorities in Romania and the United Kingdom have taken decisive action against a criminal network, which exploited female victims for sexual purposes in Northern Ireland, using the so-called ‘lover-boy method’. During a joint action day, nine suspects were arrested in Romania and two in Northern Ireland. Female victims who were sexually exploited have also been identified and their rights and safety will be ensured. Eurojust provided the financial support to set up a joint investigation team (JIT) into the case and organised judicial cross-border cooperation.
A total of 15 places were searched in Romania and Northern Ireland, and ten luxury cars along with other assets such as jewelry and amounts of cash were seized. The seizures are deemed to be part of the profits of the organised crime group (OCG) pretending to be interested in relationships with women in vulnerable positions due to their age and/or personal or financial situations, but in reality forcing them into prostitution in the UK. These so-called ‘lover boys’ promised financial contributions to the victims’ families, but kept all profits of the sexual exploitation for themselves.
Most of the profits were invested in real estate and luxury vehicles in Romania. The arrested OCG members are suspected of trafficking in human beings and illegal pandering activities. Investigations into their activities started in 2019. As well as funding the JIT, Eurojust supported the judicial cooperation by organising two coordination meetings between the authorities involved in November 2020 and March 2021.
The operation was rolled out on the ground in Romania by the Directorate for Investigation of Organized Crime and Terrorism (DIICOT), Dambovita Territorial Office, the Brigades for Countering Organised Crime (BCCO) of Ploiesti and Bucharest, the Service for Countering Organised Crime (SCCO) Dambovita, the Directorate for Special Operations (DOS) and the Centre for International Police Cooperation. In the UK, the action was supported by the Public Prosecution Service for Northern Ireland and the Police Service of Northern Ireland, with officers present on the ground in Romania.