Wednesday, 6 July 2016

Edo woman Franca Asemota on trial for trafficking of minors into Europe and forcing them into prostitution




Nigerian woman is accused of being a major organizer in a network which trafficked young women, mainly teenagers from remote parts of Nigeria before selling into prostitution in Europe, a court heard on Tuesday, July 5.

Franca Asemota, 38, from Benin City, Edo State allegedly used witchcraft to round up and terrify the teenagers before selling them into prostitution in Europe, a court heard.

A European Arrest Warrant (EAW) was issued for her when she was though to be in Italy, but NCA officers later tracked her down to Nigeria.

In March 24, 2015, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) arrested Asemota in Benin City, on suspicion of money laundering charges. Following liason with the NCA her fingerprints were checked with UK records and her identity was established.

On January 13, 2016, Justice Abdul Kafarati of the Federal High Court in Abuja, ordered her extradition to the United Kingdom for offences bordering on trafficking of minors.

Asemota, known to her victims as 'Auntie Franca', used London's Heathrow Airport as a transit hub to traffic at least 40 children and young adults into Europe, a jury was told. She accompanied the victims on eight separate flights between August 2011 and May 2012.  Her gang even managed to snatch back two girls who had been rescued and put in foster care in Worthing, East Sussex, it was claimed.
Asemota is accused of luring mainly orphans from rural villages with the promise of jobs and education. But the 38-year-old would then use witchcraft, threats, Juju, and sexual violence to ensure they did as they were told before being sold to the sex industry in Europe, it was said.

The trafficking first came to light when Border Agency officials stopped two groups, one in September and one in November 2011, travelling on false passports, Isleworth Crown Court heard.

Although she was not arrested at the time, Asemota's ticket had been booked at the same time, at the same travel agent in Lagos, and she was sat next to the group on the plane.

Investigators then linked Asemota to six other 'successful trafficking trips' and the kidnapping of two girls who had been placed in foster care on the south coast, it was said. The two girls were spirited out of the country to Spain but one girl's fake passport was spotted and she was returned back to Britain.

This allowed investigators to trace Asemota to Nigeria from where she was deported to face trial. Wearing a pink jumper with her hair tied back, she wept in the dock as Paul Cabin outlined the prosecution's case. He said the three people were first stopped at Heathrow:
"They held consecutively issued tickets and were all carrying passports that stated they were all over the age of 18. The passports were suspected to be false. They were refused permission to board the aircraft and were arrested on suspicion of identity card offences. Asemota was travelling on the same Air France flight, but was not stopped or apprehended."
On a later flight in November, a male and a female passenger were also stopped.
"Asemota was booked on the same flight and was also detained because the authorities were able to see that all of their tickets had been booked at the same time. She denied any involvement and was eventually released. The two passengers detained at Heathrow were arrested and both were interviewed under caution. Both were charged and prosecuted, initially. The male was subsequently deported back to Nigeria. The girl was in fact revealed to be just 14 years old. She eventually told the prison authorities her real age and proceedings against her were discontinued and she was placed in the care of social services,
"All five victims, from both trips, eventually gave video or audio recorded accounts to the UK authorities. They all came from remote Nigerian villages and had all been told that they were going to be educated, trained, employed in France. They all had difficult histories - for example, some were orphans. One was a runaway from an attempted forced marriage. All but one reported at the time that they had been trafficked by a female who accompanied them on the aircraft from Lagos, known variously as Auntie Franca or Violet."
Mr Cabin told the court that some victims were told they could be trainee hairdressers. It was only when they had travelled 'a long way from their villages were they told they were really destined for a life of prostitution,' jurors heard.
"Asemota is linked to six other trafficking trips, which were successful, in that the group successfully transited at Heathrow for France."
These trips, Mr Cabin said, all took place within a few months of each other at the end of 2011, and involve 40 victims. It also emerged that two girls stopped by officials had been placed in foster care in Worthing, East Sussex, in February 2012.

The court heard that the two underage girls were snatched from their carers by a ruthless 'Ju Ju' people smuggling gang. The girls, one of whom was just 14, were taken into care after being caught with fake passports at Heathrow airport in 2011, the court was told.

The story typically starts with the targeting of young teenage girls in remote Nigerian villages. They and their families and guardians are told that educational and work opportunities exist in Europe for them. Initially, therefore, the girls go with the gang voluntarily.

Referring to the two girls in foster care, Mr Cabin added:
"They settled in well and both went to a nearby secondary school. They had both been detained at HMP Bronzefield after their arrests and may have met each other there, but obviously from this point on they were in close contact and became friends. On April 6, 2012, both girls were reported missing by their foster carers. Both had said they panned to go shopping but switched off their phones and failed to return home. Five days alter one was returned back to the UK from Spain after travelling on a fake passport. Tragically, the other girl got through Spanish immigration and was thought to be lost forever."
In interview the girl explained that on the day of their disappearance her friend had been taking a lot of phone calls before they were picked up by two men in a car. They were given new phones and detectives saw the girl's had been in contact with a man who was arrested. His phone contained contact details for Asemota.

From 2012, the investigation team concentrated on trying to track down Asemota.

"They achieved their goal in 2015, when it was discovered that she was in Nigeria. An extradition warrant was issued to the Nigerian authorities and the defendant was arrested on March 25, 2015 in Nigeria. She was extradited to the UK on January 27, 2016. "

Jose Olivares-Chandler, defending, said that Asemota believed she was acting as a 'chaperone'.
"The defendant accepts that she was a passenger on the flights with the victims on a number of occasions. But she says she was accompanying the complainants from Nigeria to the UK and was a mere chaperone. She thought they were travelling for the first time to the UK to join their families." Mr Chandler said, adding that his client had never met the victims before the flight.
In relation to the kidnapping, he said his client was contacted by one of the girls and believed she was helping with her immigration application. "The defendant was unaware of any alleged wrong-doing."

Asemota denies nine counts of conspiracy to traffic persons for sexual exploitation, two counts of trafficking persons out of the UK for sexual exploitation, and three counts of assisting unlawful immigration. The trial continues.

Source: National Crime Agency Uk(NCA) /Daily Mail




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