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Arrests in prostitution bust

FOUR Slovaks are in custody in Bratislava awaiting extradition to France after police claimed to have busted a major European on-line prostitution ring.

The suspects, three men and a woman, were arrested in Bratislava on June 23 in a coordinated action between police in Slovakia and France, where another four people were arrested on the same day.

Three days later, the Bratislava regional court issued a 60-day detention order for the Slovaks so that a demand for their rendition to France could be considered.

A European arrest warrant for the Slovaks was earlier issued by a French court. The suspects were detained in a joint action between the General Prosecutor’s Office and the police unit that combats organized crime.

Police spokesperson Andrea Polačiková said that the police also searched domestic and business premises and charged the four suspects with internet-based procurement.

All are allegedly connected to a prostitution-based website which was run by a Bratislava advertising company, SmartDev Media.

“The Slovak suspects along with other individuals in various countries created an internet page on which, for a fee, they advertised male and female escort services providing prostitution, whose proceeds they appropriated,” said Polačiková.

SmartDev is owned by Marek M., 27, who is among those in custody. On July 1, a day after the website was taken offline by the French authorities, the site was re-registered to a company in Scottsdale, Arizona and continues to function. When The Slovak Spectator visited its Bratislava headquarters on July 9, a buzzer was found bearing the name SmartDev but its premises were deserted and its logo removed from its office door. Another resident of the building said the company had abandoned its premises.

SmartDev, along with affiliated companies Hudba.sk and ADM Holding, is alleged to have hosted 37 websites on which prostitutes from across Europe could advertise their services for a fee ranging from 280 to 800 euros a month. The money from the operation is alleged to have flowed from France to Slovakia and thence to Switzerland. According to French police, the ringleader of the operation is a Swiss citizen.

Marek M.’s business partner in Slovakia, D. A., according to documents in the business registry, is an Italian national although he was born in Switzerland. D. A. is mentioned in the European arrest warrant for the Bratislava suspects issued by Interpol, but is not clearly identified as the boss of the operation. 

According to French media reports, the operation earned up to €3 million a month in France alone. The European arrest warrant for the Bratislava suspects alleges that €276,000 was transferred from France to Slovakia from July 2007 to May 2008. The investigation was launched in January 2008.

The money was allegedly sent in the form of Western Union payments which are normally used to send cash between individuals. According to sources with knowledge of the case, several of the suspects in custody in Bratislava were Marek M.’s employees and were unaware of the nature of the operation.

One 25-year-old, for example, was a journalist employed by Hudba.sk to write music reviews, even though the arrest warrant refers to him as the director of the company. According to information obtained by The Slovak Spectator, he signed for a total of only €2,000 in cash since January 2008, after being asked to by his boss, and believing the money to be company funds.

According to the law, the Bratislava regional court was not allowed to consider the reasons for the detention order – whether in fact the case against the suspects was solid – but only whether the French court had followed the rules in issuing it. The evidence against the Bratislava four thus remains unclear even to their lawyers.

Pavol Gráčik, who represents the 25-year-old Hudba.sk employee, said his client could not be legally extradited from Slovakia. The Law on European Arrest Warrants says that rendition requests are to be rejected if they concern crimes “partially or entirely committed in Slovakia.”

“They shouldn’t have been taken into custody and they cannot legally be extradited,” Gráčik said. “They have simply linked my client with the owners of the company (Hudba.sk) even though he has never even been to France.”

The Bratislava court has until mid-August to decide on the rendition requests.

Addendum: The attorney of D. A. has announced to The Slovak Spectator that the French appellate court in Riom by its verdict from May 24, 2012 did not recognise D. A. as the boss of a criminal gang. According to a letter of the attorney, D. A. has not been prosecuted at all apart from France, as according to lawyers, only provision of an internet platform was concerned. (19.6.2015)

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