Twenty-four alleged members of a trafficking ring including a Nigerian
pastor, Stanley Omoregie, accused of forcing Nigerian women into
prostitution in France went on trial Wednesday, in the latest case to
highlight the increasing use of migrants as sex slaves in Europe.
Only one of the 17 alleged victims was present for the first
appearance of the accused in the court in the southeastern city of
The sex trafficking ring consists of 10 women and 14 men, all but one Nigerian.
They risk 10 years’ imprisonment on charges including human
trafficking, pimping, money laundering and helping people live
illegally in France.
Nigeria was the main country of origin for the tens of thousands of
migrants who arrived in Italy by boat in 2016 and 2017.
Many were women and girls lured to Europe with false promises of jobs
as hairdressers or seamstresses, only to find themselves selling sex
to repay their smugglers.
Nigerians outnumber Chinese or Eastern European sex workers on the
streets of France and some other European countries.
Last year, 15 members of a Paris-based, female-led pimping ring known
as the “Authentic Sisters” — many themselves former trafficking
victims — were jailed for up to 11 years for forcing girls into
slavery in France.
Similar gangs have been dismantled in Italy and Britain.
The investigation in Lyon, where police estimate half the city’s sex
workers are Nigerian, began after authorities received a tip-off about
a Nigerian pastor accused of exploiting sex workers who lived in
apartments he owned.
Months of police wiretaps and surveillance of the pastor Omoregie, and
others led to the arrest of the suspects between September 2017 and
Omoregie, 35, denied any wrongdoing, telling the court that he “wanted
to help people” and that while he lodged the women in exchange for
rent, he knew nothing of their activities.
“May God strike me down right now if any girl worked for me,” he said.
“I’ve always been against pimping.”
But in wiretaps, when Omoregie is heard asking a woman identified as
Bella where she is, she answers “at work.”
“With Blessing?” he then asks, referring to another woman. “You’re not
in the same place?”
In another call read to the court, Omoregie asks if a woman is using
the heater in her truck — something she would have to pay extra for.
Omoregie told the court investigators had mistranslated the
transcriptions of his calls.
The prosecution has presented the pastor as the kingpin of a
family-based syndicate that includes one of Europe’s most wanted
women, Jessica Edosomwan, accused of recruiting destitute women in
Nigeria for the sex trade in Lyon, Nimes and Montpellier in France.
Edosomwan, who is believed to be on the run in Europe, will be tried
in her absence.
The accused in Lyon allegedly covered the entire gamut of sex
trafficking activities, from iron-fisted “madams” and violent pimps to
the drivers of vans in which the women performed sex acts, and those
who laundered the proceeds.
Prosecutors estimate the victims, aged 17 to 38, made up to 150,000
euros ($166,000) a month for the syndicate by selling sex for as
little as 10 euros.
Most of the women come from Benin City, the capital of Edo State, a
human trafficking hotbed.