Police bust sex worker syndicate

Last updated 11:14 03/07/2013

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Five people accused of running a crime syndicate that exploited 100 sex workers across Melbourne and earned them more than $500,000 (NZ$600,000) could face more charges.

Police say sex workers at four licensed Melbourne brothels were being illegally contracted by members of the syndicate, and forced to give a percentage of their earnings.

Mae Ja Kim, 38, of Southbank, has been charged with dealing in the proceeds of crime and living on the earnings of sex workers.

Huan Wen Ye, 32, Moonja Kim, 56, Zhe  Fang, 25, and Xing Jin, 31,have been charged with aiding and abetting the proceeds of crime and living on the earnings of sex workers.

Australian Federal Police Detective Superintendent Ian Bate said the five were accused of being the kingpins of the syndicate.

‘‘They were taking money in relation to services provided and they were indeed rostering the women at different brothels,’’ he told reporters.

‘‘They were controlling the women working at the brothels.’’

He said further charges could be laid against the five, as well  as ‘‘underlings’’ of the organisation.

The scheme has netted the syndicate more than $500,000 (NZ$600,000) in the  past five months, police say.

Officers raided 13 homes, brothels and businesses across Melbourne on Tuesday, seizing more than $1 million (nz$1.2m) worth of  property.

The haul includes four apartments, three luxury cars, $50,000 (NZ$60,000) in cash and items such as dozens of designer handbags and shoes.

Detective Bate said there was no evidence to suggest the sex workers, who came from East Asian countries, were being kept as slaves or were victims of human trafficking.

Victoria Police Detective Superintendent Rod Jouning said he didn’t believe crime syndicates had taken over the sex industry.

The arrests and seizures are a result of Operation Kitrino, which has investigated the syndicate since September last year.

"This is not a large issue, but the exploitation of women in any sense is intolerable,’’ he said.

Ye was granted bail at an out of sessions hearing on Tuesday, but the four others will face a bail hearing in Melbourne Magistrates Court on Friday.

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