Twenty-four alleged members of a trafficking ring accused of forcing Nigerian women into prostitution in France went on trial Wednesday in Lyon.
Those on trial include a Nigerian pastor, Stanley Omoregie accused of being the ring leader, and Jessica Edosomwan, a woman suspected of recruiting Nigerian women as prostitutes in Lyon and two other French cities. She is on the run and has been declared wanted by Europol. She is being tried in absentia.
Only one of the 17 alleged victims was present for the first appearance of the accused in the court in the southeastern city of Lyon — 10 women and 14 men. In a further clarification, only one of the 24 charged is not a Nigerian.
They risk 10 years’ imprisonment on charges including human trafficking, pimping, money laundering and helping people live illegally in France.
Prosecutors say the 17 alleged victims earned about $160,000 per month for their masters selling cheap sex. Most came from the same area — Benin City in southern Nigeria, a pattern seen in Italy and elsewhere in Europe, experts say.
“It’s a business and there is money … and Nigerians at the moment are one of the most efficient traffickers,” said Helene de Rugy, a senior member of French NGO L’Amicale du Nid, which joined the prostitutes as a plaintiff in the case.
Most of the sex workers stayed away from the trial for fear of reprisals — something de Rugy said happened last year during a similar sex trial in Lyon.
Police say Nigerians make up a large portion of France’s prostitute population. De Rugy says it reflects a wider European phenomenon, although it’s hard to put exact figures to its size.
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.
Pastor Omoregie to Lyon court: May God kill me if a girl has worked for me
Pastor Stanley Omoregie, 35, clean shaven and wearing a small goatee under his chin stayed perfectly straight in his boots facing the pressing questions of the president of the Lyon court on Wednesday.
He said he just wanted to help the people in his community.
In a good French, which he considers to be the fruit of a successful integration, he denied the accusation of being involved in running a prostitution racket and trafficking of young girls from Nigeria to Europe.
However, from his first answers, doubts emerged. He admitted that he rented apartments to young Nigerian women, but he never suspected that they were prostitutes, teller.com reported
“What do you think these women were doing to pay you rents of several hundred euros a month, without working, since they had no residence permit?”, the court president asked.
Stanley Omoregie replied that he wanted to be of service, without trying to find out where the money came from.
More troubling still, this text in which he asked an unknown number to send him ” the best “, ” those who are mature and have beautiful bodies .” Again, Stanley Omoregie remained vague but ended up acknowledging, lip service, that he heard that some girls he was serving prostituted themselves.
Finally, in front of the court, he said, ” May God kill me now if a girl has worked for me. ”
What is surprising in this trial is that of the 22 defendants present, almost half are women. They are all Nigerian, mostly under 35 years old, and suspected of being the “mamas” of the network, in other words pimps.
The men present are also relatively young, with the exception of the only French suspected of being involved in this network. Sixty years old, he was the mechanic who repaired the vans of prostiHe admitted that he rented apartments to young Nigerian women, but he never suspected that they were prostitutes. tutes and took advantage of their services.
More generally, among these 22 defendants, 11 appear in pre-trial detention in the defendants’ box and 11 are free under judicial supervision.
And already the first profile elements common to all these suspected members appear. Almost all say they are unemployed and live on social benefits such as family allowance or asylum seeker’s allowance. Some also confess moonlighting to survive, but never for more than a few hundred euros a month. Moreover, before this case, almost no defendant had been sentenced by the courts.
They each risk ten years in prison for crimes ranging from pimping to human trafficking.