MADRID – Spanish police have busted a criminal network in Madrid that allegedly forced women and girls into sex work and arrested 41 gang members on suspicion they had been responsible for people smuggling, a force statement said on Wednesday.
A joint national and municipal police operation led to the release of 18 victims and the discovery that 14 of them, including 12 who were underage, were brought to Spain from Bulgaria under false premises and then coerced into sex work and crime by a leader they were forced to obey.
“The investigation determined that many of the underage victims, one of them as young as 13, were forced to marry members of the criminal organization or do sex work as a way to pay their families,” the police statement said, adding that another four victims were found across Europe.
The 41 detainees, who are all Bulgarian, are believed by authorities to also be involved in a series of store robberies.
The investigation began in April 2017 when police agents learned of the existence of a criminal gang made up of citizens of East European countries who were engaged in robberies before selling on the goods stolen in different European countries, the statement said.
Investigators detected that the organization occupied real estate belonging to banks in Madrid, police said.
The victims were forced to live in crowded conditions in these homes, the statement said.