Albanian jailed for tricking women into prostitution

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An Albanian pimp who ran a huge prostitution ring in Britain which included his 17-year-old wife was sent to jail for 10 years yesterday.

Luan Plakici, 26, a former interpreter, lured dozens of women from Eastern Europe with promises of work in the United Kingdom before enslaving them in London brothels and massage parlours. The women were frequently beaten and sometimes raped if they refused to work.

He tricked one of his victims, a 17-year-old from Moldova, into marrying him before putting her to work as a prostitute on their wedding night, Wood Green Crown Court in north London was told.

In the months that followed their marriage, Plakici made the teenager have two abortions, forcing her to return to prostitution hours after each one in order to keep his cash losses to a minimum.

Plakici made hundreds of thousands of pounds from prostitution in less than two years using the money to buyluxury homes and a number of expensive cars. He admitted seven counts of people trafficking and confessed to helping up to 60 women enter Britain illegally.

The jury, which took three weeks to return a verdict, also found him guilty of three counts of kidnapping; one of procuring a teenager to have unlawful sex; one of incitement to rape and three of living on prostitution between July 2000 and October 2002.

The jury heard how Plakici came to Britain seven years ago and promptly claimed political asylum, telling immigration officers he was a refugee from war-torn Kosovo. In truth he came from Laci, a small city in northern Albania and some 300 miles from fighting in the Balkans.

His linguistic skills soon made him a much sought-after interpreter for a string of Home Office-approved law firms specialising in immigration cases. He became a recognised expert on the subject, and took part in a BBC documentary about it.

Then, in 1999, he was granted British nationality ­ a matter police now intend to raise with the Home Office.

Carrying a British passport, he travelled Eastern Europe looking for "poor, naive and gullible" women, the court heard. He persuaded young women, mostly from Romania and Moldova, to come to Britain for a better life. But as soon as they had cleared immigration with the fake passports Plakici had provided, he took them to his flat in Golders Green, north London.

They were told they had no choice but to work as prostitutes ­ providing sex for up to 20 men a day, seven days a week ­ to pay back the £8,000 "travel bill" they owed. The slightest dissent was met with violence, rape and warnings that anything other than submission would endanger their families back home. With the vast profits he earned he travelled throughout Europe spending money on designer clothes and at casinos. He also began building a string of luxury homes for himself across Europe. At the time he was arrested he had just bought a Ferrari Spider sports car.

He was captured after a Romanian woman he had kidnapped with her sister and forced into prostitution escaped and went to the police. Numerous bank accounts belonging to Plakici were later traced in Britain and abroad, in which there was more than £200,000, although officers believe he may have made well over £1m in total. The case centred on charges relating to five women, including his wife.

Sentencing Plakici, Judge Robert Winstanley said: "The idea of selling human beings ... is one of the most repugnant." He continued: "You took cynical advantage of the fact that these young women led lives of considerable hardship in their own countries. Young women in these circumstances were easy prey to you and your false promises to better their lives.

"You exploited their commendable wish to better themselves through honest hard work; for a life for themselves and their families not lived on the edge of poverty." The judge added that Plakici had shown a "flagrant disregard" of Britain's immigration laws.

Outside the court, Detective Chief Inspector Mark Holmes said: "He was merciless in his exploitation of women for financial gain, terrifying his victims by beating and threatening to kill them if they did not comply with his demands.

"These girls were put through a harrowing ordeal. Not only had they been kidnapped, raped and beaten, and their hopes of a new start in life thwarted, Plakici forced them to relive their ordeals in front of a courtroom.

"It is rare to see traffickers brought to justice due to the fear and vulnerability victims feel because they are illegal immigrants. But for the bravery of these women, he would still be a free man."

Beverley Hughes, a Home Office minister, later welcomed the conviction.

"We all share revulsion at what these women have suffered at the hands of traffickers who will stop at nothing in pursuit at profit. The Metropolitan Police, assisted by the Reflex immigration taskforce, have done tremendous work to put this criminal behind bars. The Government is determined to do everything it can to tackle human trafficking and provide protection to the victims. That is why we have trebled funding to Reflex to deal with the problem at source as well as here in the United Kingdom through increased enforcement action," Ms Hughes said.

"In six months alone, 20 organised gangs have been disrupted and 24 facilitators convicted."

Ms Hughes also announced £700,000 government funding for a pilot project, which provides support to female victims of trafficking.

Harriet Harman, the Solicitor General, congratulated the Crown Prosecution Service.

She added: "The important task now, in this case and all similar cases, is to strip criminals of the money they have made ­ we must ensure the crime of human trafficking doesn't pay."