Thirty people of Nigerian nationality were arrested during two rounds of judicial police raids in June and September following a 15 month investigation.
Police identified suspects who collected cash from young Nigerian women prostituting themselves in different cities across France, officers said, estimating the network laundered between €30 and €50 million ($35-58 million) in the last three years.
“The collectors were moving money from Lille, Colmar, Strasbourg, Lyon, Nice, Marseille, Bordeaux, Nantes or Paris,” said head of anti-trafficking agency OCTREH, Jean-Marc Droguet.
A hair salon and a grocery store in northern Paris were used as collection points for the money before it was handed over to carriers who concealed the cash in double-bottomed suitcases and left the country.
The carriers would sometimes pass through other European capitals and African countries to avoid suspicion, officers said, but the money was always destined for Nigeria.
“Everything was going back home,” Droguet said.
Two Nigerian mafia gangs, the Supreme Eiye Confraternity (SEC) and Black Axe, were involved in the network, officers said.
Police have so far managed to recover just a fraction of the money: €200,000 in March and €250,000 in June.