BRUSSELS -- Belgian police detained 25 people Tuesday as part of a human trafficking probe targeting an alleged criminal organization suspected of sending Chinese women to Europe and forcing them into prostitution, the federal prosecutor's office said.
Police raided 26 places across Belgium, discovering 20 alleged victims, and one suspect was detained in Spain, the office said, with raids also taking place in the Spanish cities of Alicante and Barcelona.
All the alleged victims are of Chinese origin, and three suspects are of Belgian nationality, with the others of Chinese origin.
According to prosecutors, Chinese sex workers are increasingly present in Belgium, particularly in Brussels.
They said the criminal organization allegedly recruited women in China and transferred them to Europe where they were “sexually exploited" and forced to surrender most of their earnings.
The alleged prostitution ring used online rental platforms, hotels or vacation homes and appointments could be made via websites specializing in sex advertisements, prosecutors said, adding that the victims were often moved from one place to another across the continent.
“A significant proportion of the victims no longer had legal residence status, which increased their dependence on the criminal organization," the office said. “The criminal organization acquired large sums of money, which were transferred abroad through legal and illegal channels."
Some of the victims discovered Tuesday have been sheltered in a specialized reception center, prosecutors said.
Belgian police took control of several buildings during the raids in Antwerp, Charleroi, Louvain, Neufchâteau and Brussels, prosecutors said. The European Union’s judicial cooperation agency Eurojust and the bloc’s crime agency Europol took part in the investigation.