Up to six migration agents have worked with the mostly Asian syndicates running prostitution rackets in Melbourne and Sydney.
One of the agents involved in the sex industry in Melbourne helps to find Asian women, including those on student visas, to work as prostitutes in four different CBD apartments.
Migration agents are registered by the federal government and have powers to help people get visas and deal with the Immigration Department. They are meant to be governed by a strict code of conduct.
A Melbourne resident aware of one of the rogue agents made a complaint at a city police station in November last year.
”The constable I complained to seemed to be ignorant of the laws around prostitution and ultimately did nothing about it,” the complainant said.
An investigation by The Age has also discovered that:
¦ Under-age women have been working in illegal brothels in Melbourne’s inner east.
¦ The Australian Federal Police is investigating people linked to two state-licensed brothels as part of a human trafficking inquiry that has already led to the charging of a woman for allegedly forcing Chinese students to work as prostitutes.
¦ A senior state government minister is planning to introduce new laws to force police to take more action against illegal brothels.
The two licensed brothels linked to a human trafficking and sexual slavery inquiry are not the only government-registered and approved brothels with ties to organised crime.
Earlier this month, The Age reported that at least two other licensed brothels were closely tied to Xue Di Yan, a Mulgrave woman who runs a network of illegal brothels.
Ms Yan is the subject of an ongoing Victoria Police investigation into claims that she bribed a City of Yarra official who was responsible for shutting down illegal brothels and who has since resigned.
The probe into Ms Yan by Richmond detectives has uncovered two Chinese crime syndicates running dozens of illegal brothels. While this inquiry is expected to lead to the charging of some of her associates with bribery, Ms Yan continues to help run illegal brothels in Malvern, Thornbury and Preston.
In a separate development, The Age has learnt details of a number of under-age girls who were working in illegal brothels last year, including a 17-year-old at a site in Richmond. The girl is no longer working but the brothel remains open.
State Consumer Affairs minister Michael O’Brien has told The Age the government will pass new laws requiring police to take more action against illegal brothels. His pledge puts more pressure on Chief Commissioner Simon Overland to improve the force’s decentralised and often inconsistent or ineffective response to the illegal sex trade.
Mr O’Brien said that as well as forcing police to do more, the government would introduce laws for the seizure of assets from anyone profiting from prostitution rackets.
”People who may think that they are only slightly involved with illegal brothels [will] find themselves in the gun for proceeds of crime legislation if they are convicted,” he said.
Under the existing system, the regulation of the legal and illegal sex industry is handled by local councils, state police, Consumer Affairs and the Department of Justice. Federal agencies are responsible for investigating human trafficking, tax or immigration offences.
The Baillieu government’s promised reforms have been welcomed by Victoria’s Planning Enforcement Officers Association, which represents local council officials who lead efforts to shut down illegal brothels.
Association president Rhett English said council officials had been threatened at home when trying to shut down illegal brothels using planning laws. ”We are not trained or equipped to deal with organised crime,” he said.
A Victoria Police spokeswoman said the force was ”actively looking at illegal brothels, particularly in relation to links with organised crime and human trafficking”.
”We will always act on reports of under-age workers or other illegal activities [this has included targeting street prostitution in St Kilda recently].
”We have had very preliminary discussions with the government to date and look forward to having further discussions.”
Read more: http://www.theage.com.au/victoria/visa-agents-involved-in-sex-trade-20110330-1cgfb.html#ixzz1Kc60869U