The vice invasion: The slavemaster who bought village girls for a Mona Lisa life of sex and degradation

Jason Bennetto on the foreign gangs taking over prostitution
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The Independent Online
For pounds 250, the Copacabana Escort Agency could guarantee you sexual satisfaction. A balding pimp, or one of his two hired hands, would drive the young Brazilian women to the London hotel of your choice.

The "escorts", many of them naive village girls, often came dressed in just a fur coat and shoes to avoid wasting time with the client - just like the prostitute in the film Mona Lisa.

Once the sex was completed, the girl would repeat one of the few English phrases she had been taught: "Where is my present?"

With the money in her pocket, she would return to the agency in one of two buildings in a seedy part of London, where about a dozen other Brazilian women were housed and effectively enslaved.

For five years, this was the lucrative trade plied by Carlos Pires, a Brazilian "businessman", who until his conviction last year is believed to have made pounds 5m for his escort businesses which involved smuggling in about 100 women.

The police believe Pires, 53, is just the "tip of the iceberg" and have evidence to prove that organised criminals, including members of Hong Kong Triad gangs and high-ranking East European gangsters, are now trying to take over and expand parts of Britain's sex industry.

The case of Carlos Pires shows the potential for foreign criminals in an industry that is very lucrative and relatively risk free.

Pires and his girlfriend persuaded about 100 Brazilian women, aged between 18 and 25, to come to London to work as nannies, maids, dancers and escorts. Some knew they were becoming involved in sexual services, others did not. They were all promised money and a bright future.

The reality was being forced to work as a prostitute to serve 10 to 15 men in a 12-hour session, six to seven days a week.

The escort agencies were advertised in magazines. From the minimum charge of pounds 250 for sex, the women were allowed to keep pounds 50-pounds 60. Their passports and travel documents were confiscated so they could not run away.

Each woman was charged between pounds 7,500 to pounds 9,000 for being brought into the UK and pounds 350 to pounds 450 a week for accommodation and expenses.

A 150-page ledger was kept to record what the women owed which included charges for electricity, use of television, even condoms. In one case a woman who had earned the sum of pounds 20,000 still "owed" pounds 11,000.

In March last year, Pires was jailed for three and a half years for living on immoral earnings and smuggling in women. A confiscation order of pounds 725,000 was also made against him.

Evidence is emerging to show that organised gangs are already starting to move into the British market.

The Immigration Service and police, working together, uncovered an operation involving at least two men, one of whom was high-ranking criminal from Lithuania, bringing in up to 55 women from Russia to the UK to work as prostitutes in flats in central London.

In October 1995, their associate, Jan Borovikov, who used the alias "Ian Bush", was jailed for 21 months for blackmail and two counts of living on immoral earnings. Borovikov told the police that he wanted to be the "vice king of Soho" and vowed to return.

Evidence has also been found to show that Triad gangs from Hong Kong have run brothels in London, Manchester, Dublin and Glasgow and detectives believe they exist in most cities with a large Chinese community.

Since 1992, the police have raided six separate Triad-run brothels in London. They found inside about 10 women from Malaysia, Hong Kong and Thailand who had been brought over under false pretences.

They were forced to work 12-14-hour shifts, seven days a week, earning only a very small percentage of the fee for sex - pounds 100 for an hour - in which the punters were allowed to have sex twice. The women were also charged for their air fares, rent and meals. They had their identification papers confiscated.

Some of the girls were prostitutes from the Far East, others were village girls, who had been promised good money and conditions in Britain.

Criminals from South East Asia, particularly Malaysia, have recently been discovered supplying London brothels, pimps and escort agencies with women.

Today, if anyone wants to hire a foreign prostitute it could not be simpler. Escort agencies in the back of listings magazines boast a "selection of international girls". The woman at one company said that for a minimum of pounds 220 she could send over a selection of Russian escorts - "blonde, brunette, we have a big choice," in about 30 minutes. An extra hour would cost pounds 50.

Obtaining a Thai, Japanese or Chinese prostitute was just as easy. The cost for two hours' company was pounds 200. A man at the escort company said:

"We can guarantee you satisfaction."