(Adds court outcome)
By Rob Taylor
CANBERRA, March 7 (Reuters) - Australian police said on Friday they had freed 10 South Korean women held captive and forced to work in a Sydney brothel, after raids that led to the arrest of five people accused of heading a sex-trafficking ring.
The 10 women were forced to work up to 20 hours a day in a Sydney brothel and had their passports taken from them after they arrived from South Korea expecting to work as regular prostitutes, Australian police and immigration authorities said.
"My understanding is they came to Australia to work in the sex industry. But under more reasonable conditions," Australian Federal Police Assistant Commissioner Tim Morris told reporters.
Police said the syndicate recruited women in South Korea by deceiving them about the conditions under which they would be employed, and then organised their entry into Australia under false pretences.
"This is probably the largest alleged syndicate that we have smashed," Immigration Department Assistant Secretary Lyn O’Connell said as the women received counselling.
Five people were arrested in a series of raids on Thursday, including a 35-year-old South Korean female and a 46-year-old Korean-Australian woman believed to have headed the ring, which police said was a business worth A$3 million ($2.7 million).
The brothel was located near the centre of Sydney and had city government approval to operate.
All five faced a Sydney court, charged with offences including people trafficking, debt bondage and deceptively recruiting for sexual services.
Government prosecutors told the court that evidence against the ring included six months of intercepted phone calls and Korean language business documents.
Accused ringleader Kwang Suk Ra did not apply for bail and was remanded in custody to appear again on March 12.
Penalties in Australia for sex trafficking include maximum 15-year jail terms.
A former Thai sex slave, Jetsadophorn Chaladone, in 2007 became the first person in Australia to win compensation as a victim of sex trafficking, with a tribunal awarding her an undisclosed payment.
Australia introduced laws against sex trafficking and slavery in 1999. Since the laws were introduced only two successful prosecutions have been lodged. ($1 = A$1.08) (Editing by David Fogarty)