Nearly two dozen people suspected of being part of a sex trafficking ring forcing Nigerian women into prostitution in France go on trial Wednesday. In France, Nigerians now outnumber Chinese or and Eastern European sex workers.
Twenty-four people will go on trial in Lyon, where police estimate half the city's sex workers are Nigerian. The case took months to build, with police wiretaps and surveillance leading to the arrest of the suspects between September 2017 and January 2018.
Prosecutors have presented Stanely Omoregie as the kingpin of a family-based syndicate made up of ten women and 14 men.
Investigators received a tip about Omoregie, a Nigerian pastor, who was exploiting several women who lived in apartments he owned. In a transcript of a conversation submitted to the court, he says he wanted women "with beautiful bodies, who can be controlled, not those that cause problems."
Omoregie has denied the charges, which include aggravated pimping and slavery.
Prosecutors estimate that 17 alleged victims, aged 17 to 38, made up to 150,000 euros a month for the syndicate, selling sex for as little as 10 euros.
Most of the women come from Benin City, a centre of human trafficking, and many told investigators they had taken part in black magic rituals before leaving Nigeria, making the dangerous journey across the
Sahara Desert to Libya, then across the Mediterranean to Italy before ending up in Lyon.
Europe's most wanted woman
The accused cover the range of activities in the sex trafficking trade, from "madams" to pimps, from drivers of the vans in which the women perform sexual acts to those laundering the proceeds of the trafficking.
Among them is a 28-year-old former prostitute, who was herself released from sex slavery after paying off her debts and who in turn brought over another young woman from Nigeria.
Also on the list of accused is Jessica Edosomwan, Europe's most wanted women, who will be tried in absentia. She's accused of recruiting women in Nigeria for the sex trade in Lyon, Nimes and Montpellier.
The defendants risk 10 years in jail if convicted.
Nigerians forced into prostitution
Nigeria was the main country of origin of the migrants arriving across the Mediterranean to Italy in 2016 and 2017, though the numbers have since dropped.
Many were women and girls lured to Europe with false promises of jobs as hairdressers or seamstresses, only to find themselves selling sex on arrival to repay their debts. The United Nations has estimated that 80 percent of young Nigerian women arriving in Italy are already in the clutches of prostitution networks, or quickly fall under their control.
In France, Nigerians now outnumber Chinese or and Eastern European sex workers.
Last year 15 members of a Paris-based pimping ring were sentenced to up to 11 years in prison for forcing girls into sex slavery in France. Many were themselves former trafficking victims-turned-perpetrators.
Similar gangs have also been dismantled in Italy and the UK.