A Nigerian woman who forced dozens of teenage orphans into prostitution and slavery in Europe using the threat of witchcraft is facing jail in the United Kingdom after a court pronounced guilty on Wednesday.
Franca Asemota, known to her victims as Auntie Franca, used Heathrow Airport in London as a hub to traffic at least 40 girls and young women into Europe from remote Nigerian villages.
The 38-year-old promised them jobs, education and a better life, then used witchcraft, threats and violence to force them in to the European sex trade.
Her gang even managed to snatch back two girls who had been rescued and put in foster care in Worthing, West Sussex.
Asemota, originally from Benin City, Edo State was Wednesday found guilty of eight counts of conspiracy to traffic people into sexual exploitation by a jury at Isleworth Crown Court in London.
The trafficking first came to light when UK Border Agency officials stopped two groups, in September and November 2011, travelling on false passports.
Although she was not arrested at the time, Asemota’s ticket had been booked at the same time, at the same travel agent in Lagos, and she was sat next to the group on the plane.
Investigators then linked her to at least six other trafficking trips and the kidnapping of two girls who had been placed in foster care.
Paul Cabin, prosecuting, previously told the court how three victims were first stopped at Heathrow in September, 2011, and a further two were also to give detailed accounts of the smuggling.
They all travelled on fake passports that claimed they were over the age of 18.
Mr Cabin said: “They all came from remote Nigerian villages and had all been told that they were going to be educated, trained and employed in France.
“They all had difficult histories – for example, some were orphans. One was a runaway from an attempted forced marriage.
“They and their families and guardians are told that educational and work opportunities exist in Europe for them.
“Initially, therefore, the girls go with the gang voluntarily.
“Their compliance from that point on is secured by a mixture of threats, to themselves and their families back in their villages, the use of juju rituals and sexual violence, including in one case rape.”
He added: “All but one reported at the time that they had been trafficked by a female who accompanied them on the aircraft from Lagos, known variously as Auntie Franca or Violet.”
It was only when they had travelled “a long way from their villages were they told they were really destined for a life of prostitution,” he said.
The “successful” trips all took place within a few months of each other at the end of 2011, and involved 40 victims.
Asemota was identified as a main suspect in 2012 but fled back to Nigeria when some of her co-conspirators were arrested, believing British justice would not catch up with her.
Investigators spent around three years trying to locate Asemota until the National Crime Agency successfully tracked her down to Nigeria on March 25, 2015.
She was arrested by the Economic and Financial Crime Commission (EFCC) in Benin City on March 24, 2015 and extradited to Britain.
A video shows her chuckling in custody and smirking as she is led into a van destined to bring her back to the UK to stand trial.
Justice Abdul Kafarati of the Federal High Court sitting in Abuja had on Wednesday, January 13, 2016 ordered her extradition to the UK following a request through the office of the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF).