Two suspected victims of sex traffickers have been rescued in Belfast and two women arrested after police swooped against an alleged prostitution racket operating in Northern Ireland with links to Sweden and Romania.
A number of other potential victims have been found in Sweden during the joint operation - codenamed Burgrave - involving police across all three jurisdictions.
The arrests in Belfast were made after officers raided a number of suspected brothels in the city yesterday.
Swedish police have obtained European Arrest Warrants for the suspects, aged 20 and 27, and Belfast Crown Court will today hear an application to have them transferred to the authorities in Stockholm.
The investigation into the organised crime racket suspected of involvement in controlling prostitution and human trafficking has been ongoing for a number of months.
PSNI detectives are also probing suspected money laundering.
The operation has been made possible through a Joint Investigation Team (JIT) agreement between the UK and Sweden.
Eurojust, the EU agency set up to promote co-ordination between member states in relation to serious and organised crime, has partly funded the investigation. It was also supported by Europol, the EU’s law enforcement agency.
Police said the potential victims have been taken to a place of safety where they are being interviewed by specially trained officers and those in Northern Ireland will potentially be provided with the services of a support scheme funded by Stormont’s Department of Justice.
The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) said a number of items including documents, phones and computers have been removed for detailed examination by investigators.
The officer in charge of the PSNI Organised Crime Branch investigation, Detective Chief Inspector Douglas Grant, said: “Working with law enforcement colleagues in various parts of Europe, we believe we have halted the activities of an organised crime gang involved in controlling prostitution and human trafficking in Northern Ireland, Sweden and Romania.
“The Joint Investigation Team agreement between the UK and Sweden was reached with the assistance of PPS (Public Prosecution Service) prosecutors and has enabled our teams of officers to progress inquiries and activity more quickly and effectively.
“Much work remains to be progressed but we believe the action in Northern Ireland, Sweden and Romania has provided important momentum to our collective efforts.”
A spokesman for Eurojust added: “Eurojust is pleased to have assisted in the co-ordination of judicial and police actions through the arranging of a Joint Investigation Team Agreement between the Kingdom of Sweden and the United Kingdom.
“This has facilitated the investigations into cross-border criminality and led to a successful conclusion.”
A spokesman for Europol said: “Europol’s contribution to this pan-European trafficking case included the provision of operational analytical support, cross-match reports and participation in co-ordination meetings. Europol continues to support the operation with the aim of identifying the scope of organised criminal activity.”