A ‘sextortion’ ring that blackmailed men seeking prostitutes may have claimed 4,000 victims across Spain.
Operation Lubido-Hezurra broke up the alleged ring in February last year, and now head of the Trial Court 3 in Teruel, Jerónimo Cano, is asking the Supreme Court if he should refer the case to it due to the high number of people affected across the whole of Spain.
The court summary, which remains largely secret, is 25 volumes long, and charges 30 people. The two alleged ringleaders, Ismael Bousnina, alias Salva, and Massinissa Ferrah, aka Erik, have been held since their arrest in Teruel prison. The case involves investigations into crimes of extortion, threats, false documentation, usurpation, money laundering and criminal organisation.
The sextortion plot now under investigation is described by the Guardia Civil e as “an organised criminal group” dedicated to the sexual blackmail of people who had hired or tried to hire the services of prostitutes through the website pasion.com.
The investigators stated in an initial report that the network could have been operating for years and spoke of “hundreds or thousands of victims”, although without specifying how many.
Victims were blackmailed into handing over cash for fear of their relatives and partners finding out about their use of prostitutes.
To achieve its objectives, the network also threatened victims with violence, threatening to send round members of the Eastern European ‘mafia’ to beat them up or even kill them.
In one case an extortionist is alleged to have said: “In half an hour I want my money or I will shoot you twice in the leg,” from a man they were demanding €450 from.
“It is this fear of an evil that they believe to be feasible that manages to paralyse the victims and leads to the payment of the sums requested, in some cases exceeding several thousand euros,” stated a report from the Guardia Civil, which included the case of a victim who gave €25,000 to the network.
When the first arrests were made, the investigations found that the sexual blackmail network had obtained a booty of “hundreds of thousands of euros”. To collect these amounts, the alleged extortionists had set up a network of accounts in the name of front men to collect the money without being connected to the blackmail.
Through a family in the Valencia neighbourhood of La Coma, they coordinated a network of mules, people who lent their bank accounts to receive the income in exchange for a small commission. They received €50 out of every €1,000 collected.
The money was immediately withdrawn from the accounts, most of the time without leaving even a trace of a card, but by means of a code. One of those involved moved more than €250,000 in a few months, of which €233,000 went straight into accounts opened by people with Malawian passports, which investigators suspect are false.
The Guardia Civil learned of the existence of the plot in April 2018, when one of the victims filed a complaint at the Sarrión barracks (Teruel) after seeing that, despite making a first payment, the extortion was continuing.
“There will be consequences and your family will find out,” he was threatened. In the following months, six other residents of the same province reported similar events and, shortly afterwards, the investigations extended to Navarra, Castellón and Guipuzkoa, where new victims appeared.
The first investigations pointed to the province of Valencia as the origin of the sexual blackmail, where the bank branches where the plot had opened the accounts to receive the money were located. Ten months later, two Valencian men in their twenties, Salva and Eri were arrested.