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29 Sep, 2009 05:53

Top spy indicted in sex ring case

Moscow’s regional military court is due to resume hearing a sex trafficking case involving 13 suspects, one of whom is a senior Russian intelligence officer.

Investigators, who busted the alleged trafficking ring in 2007, claim the group smuggled more than a hundred women into Western Europe and the Middle East, where they were forced to work as prostitutes.

As a result of the level of sex trafficking in Europe and the Middle East, the beautiful Russian name Natasha has, unfortunately, over the past two decades become a byword for a Russian prostitute.

One Natasha in particular thought she was going on vacation, but ended up locked in a brothel in the United Arab Emirates.

“I didn’t have the slightest doubt. My best friend asked me if I wanted to join her on holiday. As it turned out, she just brought me there as a slave, took the money and left,” says Natasha, a victim of the sex trade.

At times Natasha thought she wouldn’t survive, but the thoughts of her small son kept her hopes alive. After seven months in captivity she managed to flee and returned home. Fear, hatred and shame continue to haunt her, however.

“People who are involved in this business have so many connections, they fear nothing. They have policemen, judges, even sheikhs among their clients. I’m very afraid they will find me. I’m afraid for my own life and the life of my family,” Natasha says.

Two-year hiatus

The group charged with sex trafficking has been on trial for more than two years.

“Actually this is the first time the Moscow regional military court has been dealing with such a crime. These people have been accused of human trafficking and involvement in prostitution,” says Moscow regional military court spokesperson Aleksandr Minchanovsky.

The striking thing about the case is the involvement of defendants from high-level positions. One of them, for instance, is lieutenant colonel Dmitry Strykanov, who worked for the Military Intelligence Directorate – a spy agency of the Russian military.

The extent to which he used his professional connections is yet to be determined. Those following the case, however, say the sex trade is fueled by corruption.

“The opposing side has everything – the best lawyers, money, power, connections. And women who became victims of the sex trade are simply defenseless,” says Alyona Arlashkina from the Angel Coalition, an organization which fights human trafficking.

Strykanov himself denies any involvement in sex trafficking, saying he was only helping to prepare travel documents.

With state financing drying up in the 1990s, he claims officers had no other choice but to look for additional sources of income.

It is no secret that harsh economic realities often push women into prostitution. What is unusual is to hear men charged with sex trafficking use the same argument to defend their actions.

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