Monday October 10 2011
By Reporter Sally Neighbour and Producer Peter Cronau
Watch the program HERE
Program Context: Around Australia there are hundreds of legal brothels. Thousands of women sell their bodies for profit. Now, in a joint Four Corners/The Age special investigation, reporter Sally Neighbour exposes the brutal illegal off-shoot of the sex industry: sex slavery. In a report that exposes the worst excesses of human trafficking she reveals how networks of criminal gangs are luring women to Australia, where they are forced to work as sex slaves. If they refuse they are beaten and their families are threatened.
"What happened to us was a nightmare. We worked from 11am to 3 or 4am the next morning, and slept only three or four hours. They treated us like animals. We were sexually abused, we were dragged, we were hit." Former sex slave, from Melbourne
Like any business, the trade in flesh thrives on consumer demand. Sex trafficking and sexual slavery exists because customers want Asian women who are reputed to be more compliant to their needs. Many of the Asian sex workers in Australia are here willingly. However some are trapped, humiliated, placed in debt bondage and forced to put their lives in danger by having unprotected sex with hundreds of men.
The Four Corners/The Age investigation begins in brothels in Australia's major cities. Using public records and information gathered from industry insiders, we investigate the extent of the networks and detail the methods used by the gangs and their standover men to force women to work in this brutal industry.
Following evidence of an international syndicate, reporter Sally Neighbour goes to Asia to track the people who work to snare the women, and discovers a highly organised operation that has trafficked hundreds of women around the world, including scores to Australia.
Once the women arrive here, the owners play a cat and mouse game with authorities, moving their captives from brothel to brothel and even interstate, to prevent police from finding them.
It's clear that right now in Australia women are being held as sex slaves. It's also true traffickers remain at large and brothels using trafficked women remain open. Many Australian men are, knowingly or unknowingly, paying for sex from the enslaved women. The question is, what will authorities do to stop this criminal trade?
'Sex Slavery', presented by Kerry O'Brien, goes to air on Monday 10th October at 8.30pm on ABC1. It is replayed on Tuesday 11th October at 11.35pm. It can also be seen on ABC News 24 at 8.00pm on Saturdays, on ABC iview and at abc.net.au/4corners.
Melbourne ~ Monday October 10 2011
Legal brothels' sex slavery links
Nick McKenzie and Maris Beck
The rear of the Candy Club. (Mal Fairclough)
LEGAL brothels in Victoria and New South Wales are operating unchecked despite police investigations implicating them in human trafficking, sex slavery and organised crime.
Two Australian Federal Police investigations - Operations Elixation and Raspberry - have identified at least three Melbourne brothels and two in Sydney linked to an international sex slavery ring.
The syndicate allegedly convinces Asian women to fly to Australia for study, and then forces them to work as sex slaves in Sydney and Melbourne.
Candy Club manager Lin Gao faces accusations.
A syndicate member, De Jun Zheng, was also involved in the 2009 killing of Melbourne man Abraham Papo, 27, outside a brothel linked to sex trafficking.
Evidence suggests that Mr Papo was killed after he tried to help a Korean prostitute he thought was being harmed or held against her will by the syndicate in Sydney.
Mr Papo's parents, Deanna and Marco, have called on state and federal authorities to do more to crack down on brothels linked to sex trafficking.
The state authorities responsible for approving legal brothels have taken no action despite court documents in August detailing federal police allegations that the brothels - or their managers - were involved in organised crime.
After a joint investigation by The Age and the ABC's Four Corners, it can be revealed that the brothels targeted by the police operations include the Candy Club in Richmond, which is licensed by the Victorian government, and the Five Star in Woolloomooloo, Sydney, which operates with local council approval.
In addition to the legal parlours identified in AFP operations, several other legal brothels with alleged links to organised crime are operating unchecked. They include:
Inner-city Sydney brothel Nadira, which specialises in Korean prostitutes and is closely linked to the Comancheros outlaw motorcycle club and senior Asian organised crime figures.
Regarding House, a brothel in the Melbourne suburb of Heidelberg, where a sex slave allegedly worked in 2009 and which operates from premises whose owner is linked to a Chinese crime syndicate that runs dozens of illegal brothels.
39 Tope Street in South Melbourne, from which authorities removed two women in late 2008 due to sex slavery allegations which were later denied by the licensee.
Senior police sources said the links between organised crime or sex trafficking syndicates and legal brothels highlight a need for stronger regulation, better information sharing between police and regulators - including across state borders - and a possible need for uniform prostitution laws across Australia.
An AFP spokesman told The Age that the agency "continually explores ways to increase the sharing of information and collaboration" in the illegal sex industry.
Since 2003, the AFP's human trafficking teams have undertaken more than 300 investigations and assessments of trafficking allegations, and identified 181 victims, including 147 women forced to work as sex slaves.
Senior state police sources in Victoria and NSW acknowledge that the policing of organised crime in the legal brothel sector is patchy and that the regulation of brothels in both states is often woeful.
Operation Raspberry has gathered testimony from two witnesses who allege that the licensed manager of Richmond's Candy Club, Lin Gao, is part of a syndicate that in 2009 forced two women to work as sex slaves at two other Melbourne brothels, Woolloomooloo brothel Five Star and a second Sydney brothel, which is now under new ownership.
In witness statements tendered in August to a Melbourne court, two Chinese women alleged they were forced to engage in unsafe sex practices in these legal brothels and work up to seven days a week, servicing dozens of men. Every dollar they earned was allegedly returned to the syndicate that sent them from Asia to Australia.
"I did not know how much money I made or how much money I had paid off my debt. My mind was blank. I was just counting down the days," one of the witness statements alleges.
The statements identify Ms Gao as an alleged "big shareholder" and decision maker connected to the trafficking syndicate's Australian operations, although she told The Age through a lawyer that she is not involved in any impropriety.
The AFP court documents contain a large amount of information implicating Ms Gao and several of her Sydney and Melbourne associates in sex trafficking or other crimes, but only one syndicate member has so far been charged.
At least three of these associates are still involved in running legal brothels in Sydney or Melbourne.
One of the few brothels in Victoria against which regulators are attempting to take disciplinary action is Club 234 in Richmond, which remains open. According to court documents, the brothel operates in premises owned by Boris Kogan, who has "substantial links to Russian organised crime".
The licensee of Club 234, Anthony Fletcher, has denied impropriety and is fighting the claims he breached a licence condition by failing to stop Mr Kogan being involved in the brothel business.
An 2010 affidavit from Victoria's Business Licensing Authority and tendered to VCAT states: ''The said police information report [from 2004] states that Boris had purchased the brothel at 234 Coppin street Richmond and he specialises in introducing Russian prostitutes into brothels.
''The report further states that Boris had paid $600,000 for the premises and is now looking for a licence holder to front the brothel for him.''
Consumer Affairs Victoria told The Age that if it obtained "solid, court-admissible evidence of brothel licensees or approved managers participating in serious or organised criminal activities" it may apply to a court to determine if there are grounds for taking action against licensees.
With TOM REILLY, ANNE DAVIES
Melbourne ~ October 9 2011
Brothel 'bosses' hit with bribery, sex charges
Maris Beck and Nick McKenzie
Video: Flesh Trade - Kate Ellis
Extended interview with Kate Ellis, Federal Minister for the Status of Women HERE
ALLEGED key members of Chinese syndicates said to control much of Melbourne's illegal brothel trade have been charged with paying tens of thousands of dollars in bribes to a local government official.
The Sunday Age can reveal four people have been charged over the past 12 days with bribery or illegal prostitution, as part of an alleged multimillion-dollar racket that is said to have spanned six years and at least 15 Melbourne suburbs.
Among those charged is Xue Di ''Jenny'' Yan, an alleged king-pin of the illegal brothel industry.
Xue Di 'Jenny' Yan. (Wayne Taylor)
The investigation, led by police detective sergeant Nick Goodear throughout 2010, was the biggest and most intensive operation targeting the illegal brothel sector in several years.
However, it focused only on Melbourne's inner and outer northern suburbs. Despite the charges and arrests, dozens of illegal brothel operators continue to run prostitution services throughout Melbourne with relative impunity.
Many of the illegal brothels are advertised in local newspapers and openly discussed online. Some allegedly linked to those charged remain open.
Hao Yong 'Tony' Tang. (Wayne Taylor)
Today's revelations are part of an expose of criminality in Australia's sex industry produced in conjunction with the ABC's Four Corners program.
Police raids on up to a dozen illegal brothels in November 2010 netted evidence to be used in court to allege that Yan, with Anon Lu and Tony Tang, controlled several brothels in Melbourne's inner city and northern suburbs. They are accused of bribing former council officer Ken Wolfe in order to dodge inspections by police and council officials.
Wolfe, who was responsible for shutting down suspected illegal brothel premises by charging them with breaching planning regulations, resigned as the City of Yarra's co-ordinator of planning enforcement after his town hall office was raided last November.
Anon Lu (Wayne Taylor)
He pleaded guilty in August to taking $130,000 in bribes from illegal brothel operators across Melbourne in exchange for information about inspections and raids.
Rumours that sex was being offered at Richmond's Club Striptease led to it being visited by police one day last year. They
found no sex on offer that day - because, they allege, the owner knew they were coming.
Neil Hancock (Wayne Taylor WMT)
In a call caught on a phone tap, club owner Neil Hancock is alleged to have told a council worker: ''Mate, without that phone call I would've been f---ed.'' Over the next week, he is accused of depositing $250 into the council worker's TAB account, as part of payments that would allegedly total more than $12,000 over four years.
Hancock, 65, has now been charged with 52 offences, including bribing a public official with payments totalling $12,720 between July 25, 2006, and November 1, 2010. It is alleged sexual services were offered at his club without a licence.
Yan, 49, was charged with 35 offences including bribing a public official to the tune of $23,827.41 and working as a sex work provider without a licence. Hao Yong ''Tony'' Tang was charged with 106 offences, including making corrupt payments to a council official totalling $77,960 between October 2, 2004, and October 30, 2010, working as a sex work provider without a licence and living on the material benefits of prostitution.
Anon Lu, 50, was charged with 37 offences, including inciting a local government official to supply information about the investigations into alleged illegal brothels, making corrupt payments of $20,827.41 and working as a sex work provider without a licence.
In Melbourne Magistrates Court last week, magistrate Mary Kay Robertson extended bail for all four accused, subject to conditions including they not attend an international point of departure or contact prosecution witnesses other than the police informant.
De Gen Zheng, 55, of Preston, has been charged, over an alleged illegal brothel in East Melbourne, with recklessly carrying on a sex work business without a licence, carrying on a sex work service without a licence and knowingly deriving a benefit from the earnings of sex work. He will appear before the Magistrates Court in December.
• Tip-offs to the AFP about sex slavery or human trafficking can be made by calling 131 AFP (free call).
Melbourne ~ October 9 2011
Police to get more power to fight illicit sex trade
THE police will get more authority to swoop on illegal brothels as Premier Ted Baillieu comes under growing pressure to crack down on Melbourne's booming sex trade.
The government is drafting laws to make Victoria Police the lead agency to weed out unlicensed brothels, in a bid to stop dodgy operators and crime syndicates from exploiting the state's weak regulations.
But the Coalition says the legislation will not be introduced until later this year - with no certainty as to when it will pass.
The government is moving to increase police powers in a bid to stamp out illegal brothels.
''It seems as though the crooks are going to be given further free rein, allowed to operate their illegal brothels without fear of prosecution for some time to come,'' said William Albon, a spokesman for the Australian Adult Entertainment Industry, whose members are owners of lawful brothels and escort agencies.
About 400 illegal brothels are believed to be operating in Victoria, in what legitimate businesses describe as a growing crisis that authorities have been too slow to address. Consumer Affairs Victoria and the police have set up a high-level taskforce - involving local councils, the Australian Federal Police, the federal Department of Immigration, and the Australian Taxation Office - in an attempt to streamline the ad-hoc, multi-tiered way in which the industry is regulated.
Consumer Affairs Minister Michael O'Brien's spokesman said that the ''taskforce has commenced operation and is working on ways to enhance the sharing of information and intelligence to assist in the identification, arrest and prosecution of illegal brothel operators in Victoria and offer appropriate help to sex workers''.
Government figures confirm that while authorities have conducted dozens of inspections of alleged illegal brothels in recent years, there have been comparatively few closures or successful prosecutions. Fifty-four alleged unlicensed brothels have been inspected or put under surveillance by Consumer Affairs Victoria since July this year - a significant increase compared with 41 attendances in the 2010-11 financial year and nine in 2009-10.
Mr Albon said illegal brothels posed serious risks, including abuse of women, tax avoidance, illegal immigration, and health risks for the general community (some workers are required to have unprotected sex). But the state government, local councils, and police merely handballed responsibility from one agency to the next.
Mr O'Brien's spokesman said the government was working on fixing the problem.
''The Victorian Coalition government is committed to making Victoria Police the lead agency for enforcing sex work industry laws,'' he said. ''Preparatory work is currently under way, and the Coalition government will introduce legislation to this effect later this year. Consumer Affairs Victoria currently has transitional operational arrangements in place with Victoria Police until the legislation is passed and comes into effect.''
Assistant Commissioner Andrew Crisp said police were actively investigating illegal brothels, particularly those with links to organised crime and human trafficking.
He said the police were in the early stages of developing a Victoria Sex Industry Strategic Management Group, in conjunction with Consumer Affairs Victoria and the Australian Federal Police. ''When established the unit will ensure a consistent and co-ordinated approach in support of the existing enforcement areas,'' said Assistant Commissioner Crisp.
''We will always act on reports of under-age workers or other illegal activities and will continue to target those responsible for providing this unlicensed sex work and continue to conduct investigations into illegal brothels.''