For the past three months, the Ticino authorities have been cracking down on illegal prostitutes at work in the Italian-speaking canton in an intensive operation named “Operation Domino”, newspaper Tages Anzeiger reported.
“We are not against prostitution per se, but against illegal prostitution,” the Ticino chief prosecutor John Noseda told reporters in Lugano.
Investigators have shut down 12 establishments in that time, and a further 11 have closed “voluntarily” in advance of the expected raids. This means that of the 32 brothels doing business in March, only nine now remain open.
The operation has also uncovered disturbing links between prostitution and other crimes such as money laundering, tax fraud and forgery, as well as extortion, violence and human trafficking.
Almost 90 of the 170 women uncovered in the sting came from Romania, with significant numbers coming also from Brazil, the Dominican Republic, Spain and Italy. In contrast, nearly all of the brothel owners or managers came from the Ticino, with up to 90 percent of the clientele coming from Italy.
Charges are expected to be brought against the 11 owners arrested. It is unlikely that any action can be taken against those involved in the brothels that shut down prior to the police raids.
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“In this case, any action is almost impossible as we have no evidence,” Nosada said.
The aim of the operation was to force the women to register and pay taxes. Throughout the year, the authorities have recorded an increase in the number of women joining the tax system, with 249 having registered so far this year.