The BRP division of the Paris police, which targets pimping, arrested eight people in connection with the operation, that saw dozens of transsexuals forced into selling their bodies in the Bois de Boulogne park in the wealthy western limits of the French capital.
Among the arrested men was the ringleader, nicknamed ‘Andrea Chichi’, who is suspected of having forced nearly 90 transsexual prostitutes into the sex trade. It is alleged he also threatened them with black magic if they refused to obey his orders, French newspaper Le Parisien reports.
According to a police source who spoke to Le Parisien, Chichi, 43, was arrested last week while trying to board a flight to Buenos Aires, with hundreds of thousands of euros in his luggage.
The rest of his alleged lieutenants were arrested in Hauts-de-Seine, outside the French capital, and are suspected of managing the network of prostitutes, recruited and flown into France and Italy from Argentina.
“He had a stranglehold on everyone in the network,” a police source told Le Parisien, referring to ‘Chichi.’
“He recruited young boys from the province of Salta in western Argentina, put them up him in a hotel in Buenos Aires, and suggested they get plastic surgery from an accomplice of his nicknamed ‘Lorena’”, the source added.
After he flew the “recruits” to France, Chichi set them up with two transvestite lieutenants, who managed the prostitutes, sending them to solicit sex primarily in Bois de Boulogne.
“If some of them expressed a desire to leave, Andrea Chichi, who pretended he could use black magic, would threaten to put a curse or a spell on them,” the source said, noting that the threat of “demons” was a strategy commonly used by Nigerian pimps to keep their charges obedient.
'This plan will make us more exposed to violence, theft and rape'
The police bust comes as the government is in the early stages of reforming the laws around prostitution, a move which has provoked much debate in France.
Last month, Socialist MP Maud Olivier published a report, which is set to form the basis of government legislation, in which she recommends €1,500 fines for clients, rising to €7,500 and a six-month jail term for repeat offenders.
On Sunday, Minister for Women's Rights, Najat Belkacem-Vallaud came out in favour of punishing the clients of prostitutes with fines and community service, but opposed jailing them for the offence.
The planned reforms have provoked the anger of French prostitutes, among them Manon, who told The Local that clients, now worried about being imprisoned, would force sex workers into more isolated areas take more risks.
“The prostitutes will be forced to work in remote places, hidden away so as not to risk being discovered by the police. This will simply mean they will be more exposed to violence, theft and rape,” she said.
This week Vallaud-Belkacem reiterated a promise she made back in March to scrap legislation that made passive soliciting for sex illegal.
The law, first introduced in 2003, pushed many prostitutes out of city centre streets to more isolated locations. Many were forced to wear casual clothing, like jeans and trainers, to disguise their activity.
“The introduction of this crime of passive soliciting has made the prostitutes the guilty party, when in fact 90 percent of them are victims of human trafficking,” she told French daily Le Parisien at the time.