Sporting untrimmed sideburns and winter jacket, while still managing to look unruffled and as cool as you’d like, 35-year-old Pastor Stanley Omoregie looks the Judge straight in the eye and beckons on God to strike him dead.
The pastor is currently standing trial in a Lyon court in France and he has just denied charges bordering on aggravated pimping and slavery.
“May God kill me now if a girl has worked for me,” Omoregie swears, ashen faced and defiant all at once.
He speaks flawless French, which he considers to be the fruit of a successful integration, as he denies the accusation of being involved in running a prostitution racket and trafficking young girls from Nigeria to Europe.
In the transcript of a conversation submitted to the court, Omoregie is heard saying he wanted “those with beautiful bodies, who can be controlled, not those that cause problems.”
A family based sex syndicate
The prosecution has presented Omoregie as the kingpin of a family-based syndicate made up of 10 women and 14 men, including one of Europe’s most wanted women, Jessica Edosomwan.
Edosomwan has been accused of recruiting destitute women in Nigeria for the sex trade in Lyon, Nimes and Montpellier.
Believed to be on the run in the Benelux (Belgium, Netherlands, Luxembourg) countries, Italy or Germany, Edosomwan is set to be tried in absentia.
It took months of police wiretapping and surveillance before Omoregie and other suspected members of his cartel were arrested.
The Lyon investigation covers an entire gamut of sex trafficking activities–from iron-fisted “madams” and violent pimps, to drivers of the vans in which the women perform sexual acts, and to those tasked with laundering the proceeds of the trafficking, according to an AFP report on the development.
Prosecutors estimate that 17 alleged victims, aged 17 to 38, made up to 150,000 euros ($166,000) a month for the syndicate by selling sex for as little as 10 euros.
Working with juju
According to a United Nations estimate, 80 percent of young Nigerian women who arrive Italy — their first port of call in Europe — already belong in prostitution networks, or quickly fall under their control.
Investigators say most of the women come from Benin City, the capital of Nigeria’s southern Edo State.
AFP describes Edo State as a “human trafficking hotbed with a long history of dispatching women and men to Europe to earn money to send back home.”
Some of the arrested women take part in “juju” or black magic rituals before leaving Nigeria.
During the juju rituals, they often promise to repay the money they owe for their passage to Europe.
Most of the women arrive Europe after making the perilous migrant trail across the Sahara Desert to Libya and then across the Mediterranean.
They arrive Italy before winding up in Lyon.
Omoregie’s first answers
Among the accused is a 28-year-old former prostitute who was released from sex slavery after paying off her debts and who in turn brought over another young woman from Nigeria.
In a tense courtroom, doubts begin to emerge from Omoregie’s first answers. He admits that he rented apartments to young Nigerian women, but says he didn’t know they were prostitutes.
“What do you think these women were doing to pay you rents of several hundred euros a month, without working, since they had no residence permit?”, the court president asks.
Omoregie replies that he just wanted to be of service. He also admits that he didn’t try to find out how the girls made their money.
Looking deadpanned while still managing to remain vague under cross examination, Omoregie finally acknowledges that he heard that some girls he provided accommodation for, were sex workers.
Nigeria tops the sex trade table
Most of the women and girls are lured to Europe with false promises of jobs as hairdressers or seamstresses. Before long, they find themselves selling sex on arrival to repay their debts.
According to the AFP, Nigerians now outnumber Chinese or Eastern European sex workers on the streets of France and some other European countries.
In 2018, 15 members of a Paris-based female-led pimping ring known as the “Authentic Sisters” were sentenced to up to 11 years in prison for forcing girls into sex slavery in France.
Omoregie and his alleged accomplices risk 10 years in jail if convicted.