Over 900 police officers and customs officials in Berlin have raided one of Germany's best-known "mega-brothels" late on Wednesday as part of a months-long investigation into human trafficking and tax evasion, claiming it is linked to the Hells Angels biker gang.
Six people were arrested including two of the managers of the Artemis brothel and four senior female staff. While police have said they are looking into accusations of human trafficking, the raid was initiated over a failure by the business to pay 17.5 million euros ($19.7 million) in social security contributions since opening in 2006. Sex workers at the venue had reportedly been pressured into saying they were self-employed in order for the business to evade the tax, reported Deutsche Welle.
The investigation into the venue was reportedly initiated after a worker spoke out about the conditions she was forced to work under, having fled her partner, who was a member of the Hell's Angels biker gang.
According to state prosecutor Sjors Kampstra, bikers from the gang received favors such as free admission in return for introducing new girls to work there, reported German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung.
Police reportedly confiscated 6.4 million euros ($7.2 million) in cash, cars, and property, also including 12 apartments and other premises in Berlin and nationwide.
At the time of the raid, police reportedly encountered 117 sex workers and more than 100 clients. Despite the legality of prostitution, AP said police have accused Artemis of overseeing a "brutal and illegal" system that severely exploited women. While the raid centered on tax evasion, police are reportedly looking into the venue's involvement in human trafficking.
Germany legalized prostitution in 2002 and since then has become a mecca for Eastern European and Russian sex workers and foreign clients. The industry is worth an estimated 16 billion euros ($18 billion) per year in Germany, while the number of sex workers there is thought to have doubled to 400,000 over the last 20 years, according to the BBC.
New legislation under consideration in Germany would see anyone who pays for sex with someone who has been forced into sex work liable to be imprisoned for up to five years. Chancellor Angela Merkel has also sought to introduce measures making it illegal not to wear a condom. The legislation seeks to bring German laws in line with new EU rules intended to prevent human trafficking. It also includes prison sentences of up to 10 years for those in charge of managing forced sex workers.
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