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Crime

Almost 100 suspected sex workers arrested in Hong Kong anti-vice crackdown

Suspected prostitutes from Russia, Thailand, Ukraine, Kazakhstan and mainland China picked up during raid on 14-storey Mong Kok building

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 30 January, 2018, 7:02pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 31 January, 2018, 7:35pm

Police have arrested nearly 100 suspected sex workers, including 17 Russians and seven Thai transgender women in one of Hong Kong’s biggest anti-vice crackdowns, raiding a building where flats had been illegally subdivided into more than 100 cubicles converted into brothel rooms.

With the help of immigration officers on Monday night, police detained two women from Ukraine, one from Kazakhstan, 13 from Thailand and 59 female visitors from the mainland, the force said.

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Investigators said at least two 14K triad-linked prostitution syndicates had arranged for the 99 suspects to work and provide sex services in the “one-woman” brothels.

Revealing details of the operation on Tuesday, Chief Inspector Nick Pearson of Mong Kok police district said the syndicates had connections in mainland China and other countries such as Russia and Thailand, where the women were recruited before being sent to Hong Kong.

Upon arrival in the city, they were taken to King Hing Building in Argyle Street, Mong Kok where they worked as prostitutes, he said.

“Investigations showed [the subdivided flats] were used as one-prostitute brothels and accommodation for the suspects,” Pearson said, adding that the women had to pay the syndicates who supplied towels, condoms and daily necessities.

The Post was told that if one sex worker charged HK$600 (US$77), she kept HK$300 to HK$400 and the rest went to the syndicates for the cost of the room and other services.

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The ground floor and first floor of the ordinary-looking 14-storey building were used for commercial premises, but most of the flats on the other 12 floors had been converted into brothels.

Each floor had two to three flats, which were subdivided into multiple rooms and used as one-woman brothels. 

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The subdivided flats had been occupied by local prostitutes in the past and most of them had moved out in recent years, the Post learned.

Armed with search warrants, more than 60 police and immigration officers raided the building at about 8pm on Monday.

Investigations showed [the subdivided flats] were used as one-prostitute brothels and accommodation for the suspects
Chief Inspector Nick Pearson

“During the operation, a total of 101 doors were forcibly opened as they refused to open,” the chief inspector said.

The 92 female visitors and seven transgender women, aged between 18 and 33, were arrested along with two Hong Kong men from about 80 of the brothels.

The two men, both aged 29, were suspected to be members of the syndicates. One was responsible for providing daily necessities to some of the women in the building.

Officers arrested the female and transgender visitors on suspicion of breaching their conditions of stay.

“We are still investigating the backgrounds of the syndicates involved,” Pearson said.

He said the operation had disrupted illegal prostitution services in the building and the income source of the triad-linked vice rackets.

Local authorities carried out regular enforcement actions against illegal vice activities in the building, but Monday’s operation was the “largest arrest of sex workers” in it, he added.

Officers from the Mong Kok special duties squad were handling the case. Police said the investigation was continuing.

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Working as a prostitute is not illegal in Hong Kong, but it is against the law to solicit clients, run a brothel of two or more people, live off the earnings of a prostitute, or control a woman for the purpose of prostitution.

In the first 11 months of last year, about 4,000 people, mainly visitors from the mainland, were arrested in connection with vice activities in the city. In all of 2016, local authorities picked up 4,160 people and 4,589 in 2015.

Official figures showed police handled 1,798 reports of triad-related crimes last year, 4 per cent down compared with 1,872 in 2016.