A Nigerian woman, Franca Asemota, 38, found guilty of attempting to traffic Nigerian girls through Heathrow Airport to work as sex workers in brothels across Europe was on Thursday sentenced to 22 years imprisonment.
Asemota was convicted on Wednesday at Isleworth Crown Court on 12 counts of conspiracy to traffic persons for sexual exploitation, trafficking persons outside of the United Kingdom for sexual exploitation and assisting unlawful immigration.
A statement by the UK High Commission in Abuja, said five of Asemota’s victims gave evidence against her during the trial.
One of them was rescued from prostitution in Montpellier, France, during a joint operation by Immigration Enforcement and the National Crime Agency.
Detectives told the court she was part of a criminal network that trafficked girls, boys and women from Nigeria to Europe using threats to guarantee their compliance.
Asemota was identified as a trafficking suspect in 2012, but fled from Italy to Nigeria when some of her co-conspirators were arrested by Immigration Enforcement investigators.
She spent time in Europe before the NCA tracked her down to Nigeria.
In an operation co-ordinated by the NCA, she was arrested by the Economic and Financial Crime Commission in Benin in March 2015 and was subsequently extradited back to the UK in January this year, after her identity was confirmed.
Asemota was said to have travelled with the girls on flights from Lagos to Heathrow, between August 2011 and May 2012, with the intention of reaching France.
They remained airside during the transit at Heathrow so were not subject to Border Force passport checks.
However, the trafficking attempts were prevented when French Authorities identified the girl’s false documents on arrival in France.
David Fairclough, from the Immigration Enforcement crime team, described the convict as the lynchpin of a trafficking ring which targeted vulnerable young women in Nigeria.
He said, “Asemota was the lynchpin of a trafficking ring which 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.”
The head of the UK Human Trafficking Centre, Martin French, stated that Asemota took advantage of her victims in some of the worst ways possible.
He 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.”