Spanish and French police have dismantled a human trafficking ring that smuggled Chinese migrants into Europe and the United States, arresting 75 suspects including alleged "main operatives" based in Barcelona.
Fifty-one suspects were arrested in Spain and 24 in France after a two-year joint investigation with French border police, a Spanish police statement said.
The arrests in Spain happened at airports in Barcelona, Madrid, Malaga and Palma de Mallorca.
The statement said the traffickers charged between 40,000 to 50,000 euros per person to provide "false identities and transport Chinese citizens to the United States and countries such as Spain, France, Greece, Italy, the United Kingdom, Ireland and Turkey”.
In some cases the ring was involved in the sexual exploitation of migrants, police said.
Spanish police seized 81 fake passports from Asian countries such as Taiwan, South Korea, Malaysia, Japan, Hong Kong and Singapore. The passports were found in two apartments in Barcelona.
Police also seized mobile phones, scanners, around 20 fake passport stamps from different border checkpoints and an electric magnifier.
Images released by the police also show a firearm and piles of euro and yuan notes seized during the operation.
The investigation into the ring described as "complex" began in July 2011.
"The composition of this perfectly structured, hierarchical organisation, with its kingpin in China and independent cells operating in different countries, completely shut off from each other, complicated the investigation," the police statement said.
The traffickers accompanied their clients all the way from China to Spain, "the last stop (serving as a) trampoline to the final destination, usually the United Kingdom or the United States.”
The alleged traffickers came mainly from China and Malaysia and were "highly-trusted members of the organisation, with deep knowledge of airports and European cities travelled in the course of the transfers," the police said.
Once the transfer was complete, the traffickers immediately returned to their countries of origin to avoid detection.
Below: Spanish police video of officers seizing fake passports and materials as part of investigations on the human trafficking ring.