EU PROTECTS > Our Safety > Breaking the circle: How Europe shattered a human trafficking ring

“This was one of the most significant human trafficking cases in recent years.”

Inspector David Diego Monserrat

In July 2017, 13 women were freed from the grip of a violent criminal gang. Manipulated and threatened, they had been taken from their families in Bulgaria to Spain, where they were forced into prostitution. 

The only way to dismantle the gang and free the women was to coordinate action across Europe. Europol and Eurojust connected police forces in Spain and Bulgaria to undertake this major investigation. Both Europe-wide agencies were behind the scenes, helping police officers collect and share evidence and make arrests.

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Breaking the circle: How Europe shattered a human trafficking ring

National authorities needed to act quickly after uncovering a violent human trafficking ring. Young women, taken from their homes in Bulgaria, were being forced into prostitution in Spain.

In one week 34 gang members were arrested and 13 young women were freed. The operation owed its success to a coordinated European effort.

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EU Protects: How Europe shattered a human trafficking ring

Inspector David Diego Monserrat

National Police


“We received information from a reliable source that women from Bulgaria were being forced into prostitution in southern Spain. We needed to coordinate arrests directly with the Bulgarian Police. Europol and Eurojust were the brains behind this cooperation.”








“This gang could have easily moved to another country to continue abusing women.”

 - Inspector David Diego Monserrat

Enrique Morales

former Europol


“After receiving word from Spain, we started putting together profiles on the gang leaders, the drivers and the handlers of the women. Europol has access to a huge criminal intelligence database. We meet with national authorities, contribute to their investigations and coordinate operations involving several countries.”




“We were the starting point for fluid cooperation.”

 - Enrique Morales

Francisco Jiménez-Villarejo

Spanish, Eurojust

The Netherlands

“We organised 2 meetings in The Hague to plan the operation. Together with Spanish and Bulgarian authorities, we identified the key targets and criminal charges. Eurojust provided advice on all legal aspects of the operation such as issuing restraining orders and blocking suspects’ bank accounts. Support for the victims was also critical: they needed physical protection and information about their rights.”






“We eliminated bottlenecks so that arrests could be made in Spain and Bulgaria.”

 - Francisco Jiménez-Villarejo

Inspector Ivan Petrov

General Directorate Combating Organised Crime


The ordinary hero’s identity has been withheld to protect the privacy of the individuals involved.

“So many things could have gone wrong, because the operation took place at the same time in 2 countries. For the arrests, 2 Spanish officers were sent to Bulgaria and 2 Bulgarian officers to Spain. In the end, the criminals were charged and the victims were rescued.” 

“It would have been impossible to bring down this group without our Spanish and European colleagues.”

 - Inspector Ivan Petrov

Zlatka Macheva

Shelter Manager, National Commission for Combating Trafficking in Human Beings


“We routinely work with the police through the national coordinator of the Bulgarian mechanism for the referral and support of human trafficking victims.”

“Victims of human trafficking and sexual exploitation who arrive at our shelter are usually between 18 and 25 years old. Some girls remain in contact with us for a long time, as they rebuild trust and start living independently.” 




“We provide medical and psychological support to help victims get back to society.”

 - Zlatka Macheva

Did you know?

United in a common cause

Once the roles of national police and prosecutors are agreed on, a date is set to carry out cross-border searches and arrests. These are called Joint Action Days.


The number of human trafficking cases undertaken by Eurojust in 2017 – compared to 71 in 2014.


of victims are trafficked for sexual exploitation, 19% for the purpose of labour exploitation. The remaining cases concern begging, sham marriages and trafficking organs.

Europol Information System (EIS)

All 28 EU Member States can access the Europol Information System (EIS), the agency’s central database for information and intelligence on people and objects linked to serious international crimes (including human trafficking).


EU Anti-Trafficking Coordinator

Dr Myria Vassiliadou is responsible for improving coordination and coherence of all anti-trafficking efforts by EU institutions, EU Agencies and Member States.


Some of them may even come from your country.

Connected by the EU, there is a network of local heroes working together to help protect us from human trafficking, data theft, criminal activity and more. From police officers to prosecutors, rescue teams to asylum coordinators, discover how the EU supports local heroes in your country.