By UK Nation Crime Agency.
A London-based nurse has been sentenced to 14 years in prison following a landmark prosecution which saw her convicted for trafficking Nigerian women to Europe and forcing them into sex work.
Josephine Iyamu, 51, is the first British national to be convicted under the Modern Slavery Act for offences committed overseas.
The National Crime Agency’s investigation into Iyamu began in July 2017 following information from the German Police who had identified one of her victims working in a brothel in Trier.
After locating Iyamu, AKA Madame Sandra, in London, NCA investigators worked with the Nigerian Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP) to look into her activities in Nigeria.
Enquiries identified that she had positioned herself as a rich and powerful woman in Nigeria and had launched a political campaign through which she claimed she wanted to empower women and families.
Despite her moderate income as a nurse, she made frequent trips abroad and owned a large house in Benin City, where she employed household staff.
Using her status, Iyamu recruited vulnerable women from rural villages and promised them a better life in Europe. She charged them up to 38,000 Euro for facilitating their travel and forced them to work as prostitutes in Germany to pay off their debts.
Before they left, she put her victims through a Juju ceremony – a humiliating ritual designed to exert control over them. The women believed serious harm would come to them or their families if they broke their oath to Iyamu or tried to escape.
She was arrested by NCA officers after landing at Heathrow airport on a flight from Lagos on 24 August 2017.
Whilst in prison, she made attempts to trace and intimidate the victims and their families, together with bribing law enforcement officers, into proving her innocence.
Prior to Iyamu’s trial, NAPTIP officers secured a video of a Juju priest conducting a revocation ceremony taking away the oath Iyamu’s victims felt bound by. This supported all five women in giving evidence in court via video link. They detailed the horrendous conditions they endured whilst travelling over-land across Africa, and then by boat to Italy before flying to Germany using false ID documents provided to them by Iyamu’s associates.
On 28 June 2018 at Birmingham Crown Court she was found guilty of five counts of facilitating the travel of another person with a view to exploitation and one count of attempting to prevent the course of justice.
On Wednesday 4 July she was sentenced to 14 years in prison, 13 years for the slavery offences and one year for perverting the course of justice, to be served consecutively. She will serve at least half of that in prison, the rest on licence.
The NCA’s financial investigation into Iyamu’s illicit earnings and assets continues.
Speaking as he sentenced Iyamu, Judge Richard Bond described Iyamu’s victims as “naive and trusting women who only wanted to make theirs and their families lives better,” and said she had seen them as “commodities…to earn you money.” During their journey to Europe he said they had been “exposed to a real and significant risk of death.”
Kay Mellor, operations manager at the NCA, said:
“Josephine Iyamu specifically targeted vulnerable women and put them through the most horrific experience for her own financial gain.
“She thought living in a different country to were her crimes were committed would protect her. Working closely with our Nigerian and German colleagues however we were able to bring her to justice right here in the UK.
“Our work doesn’t stop here. Iyamu’s expenditure on travel and properties far outweighed her legitimate earnings as a nurse and our investigation into her finances is ongoing.”
NAPTIP Director-General, Dame Julie Okah-Donli said:
“As part of our renewed determination to root out human trafficking from Nigeria, we have strengthened our networking and collaboration with the relevant sister law enforcement agencies around the world. This simply means that there no more a hiding place for any human trafficker around the world.
“I sincerely commend Officers of NAPTIP and our partners in NCA for this heart-warming development.”