BOGOTA/MEXICO CITY (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Argentina is seeking the extradition from Mexico of a former spy accused of running a criminal organization that sexually exploited women, a move one trafficking survivor said would be a “historic milestone” in the fight against the crime.
Mexican authorities arrested Raul Martins earlier this month in the seaside city of Cancun following an extradition request from a judge in Argentina, where prosecutors said he faced human trafficking, racketeering and money laundering charges.
Argentine prosecutors say Martins, who is a dual Argentine-Mexican national, exploited women and laundered the profits in at least 10 upscale brothels, cabaret bars and nightclubs in Buenos Aires over nearly three decades.
The Thomson Reuters Foundation was unable to reach Martins’ lawyer, Ricardo Hernandez.
In interviews with local media, Hernandez is quoted as saying Martins’ detention was illegal and that his case was political ahead of a presidential election in Argentina later this month.
“The organization that Raul Martins led has been working, is working, since the 1990s,” Alejandra Mangano, federal prosecutor at Argentina’s anti-trafficking prosecutor’s office, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Alika Kinan, a trafficking survivor who police freed from a brothel in southern Argentina in 2012, said it was significant that someone with links to the government was being sought by prosecutors in such a case.
“The Raul Martins case is a very important and landmark case that shows the relationship between trafficking mafias and political power,” said Kinan, who heads the Alika Kinan Foundation that supports trafficking survivors.
“We hope the extradition happens because it’s going to mark a historic milestone in the fight against trafficking in this country.”
Martins graduated from Argentina’s National Intelligence School in 1985 and worked at the country’s national intelligence agency for more than a decade, according to local media reports.
The U.S. State Department’s 2019 report on human trafficking said Argentina had “increased investigations prosecutions, and convictions, including those of complicit officials”, though official complicity remained “a significant concern”.
Argentine prosecutors are investigating possible involvement of public officials in paying for sex from women being exploited or turning a blind eye to sex trafficking and granting permits for bars where the crime is known to occur.
“We believe that in Buenos Aires, and also in other provinces of the country, there are sexual exploitation rings that have important connections in terms of protection allowing them to operate,” Mangano said.
“There are cases where public officials are clients of such places.”
Argentine authorities have convicted 14 public officials including police and one judicial official on charges of human trafficking since 2008, she said.
Martins was “provisionally detained for extradition” and is being held in prison in Mexico City, the office of Mexico’s attorney general said in a statement, without giving further details.
It is unclear when or whether Martins, who took Mexican nationality after settling in the country in the mid-2000s, will be extradited.
It takes typically more than a year for extradition requests to be decided, according to legal experts.
“The federal executive has the discretion to decide whether or not to grant the extradition of (Mexican) nationals,” the statement from the attorney general’s office said.
Mangano said most of the brothels Martins is accused of running in Buenos Aires had since been shut down.
At the height of his activity, he ran a string of establishments with names like “Extra Brut” and “Top Secret”.
Most of those who were sexually exploited were women aged from 18 to 30 from Argentina and other countries in South America, including Paraguay, Colombia and Brazil, she said.
Argentina’s 2008 anti-human trafficking law carries a maximum prison sentence of 50 years, although so far the longest sentences handed down have been from 14 to 15 years, Mangano said.
The charges against Martins, 71, involve a criminal complaint filed by his own daughter, Lorena Martins, who came forward in 2011 to detail how the brothels operated, as well as people who worked in the brothels and victims, Mangano said.
Reporting by Anastasia Moloney in Bogota, Christine Murray in Mexico City, additional reporting by Oscar Lopez in Mexico City, Editing by Claire Cozens. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org