CARTAGENA, Colombia – From July 26-29, 2018, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Bogota, the HSI Bogota Transnational Criminal Investigative Unit (TCIU), and the Colombian Attorney General’s office executed thirteen search warrants in support of the first and largest operation in Colombian history targeting businesses, residences, and hotels known for sponsoring and facilitating the sexual exploitation of women and children. As a result of this operation, approximately 250 victims were identified, some of whom were even branded with tattoos by the predator.
The operation is the first phase of Operation Vesta, a long-term joint U.S. and Colombian law enforcement investigation that focused on Transnational Criminal Enterprises engaging in human trafficking, sex tourism, prostitution, child exploitation, and conspiracy in Cartagena, Colombia.
Fourteen Colombian citizens were arrested, among them a high-ranking Colombian Naval officer and two Colombian National Police (CNP) officers in Cartagena. Three Israeli nationals were also arrested. The Israelis had built a network of human trafficking, sex tourism, and child exploitation that plagued Colombia for over a decade.
Evidence obtained during the course of this operation will be forensically analyzed by members of the HSI Bogotá TCIU at the Yuliana Samboni Laboratory, a sophisticated CyberCrime laboratory opened earlier this year.
Crucial support was provided by the HSI Office of Intelligence and U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s (CBP) Human Trafficking Unit in Miami and through Operation Renegade. Operation Renegade was created by CBP at Miami Airport to identify victims and targets engaged in human trafficking and prostitution entering or traveling through the United States. Colombian Immigration provided crucial assistance to Operation Vesta as well.
The arrests took place on and around the United Nations World Day Against Trafficking in Persons. HSI, a worldwide leader in the fight against human trafficking, initiated 833 human trafficking cases in Fiscal Year 2017, resulting in 1,602 arrests, 578 convictions, and identified 518 victims.
To read more about HSI’s International Operations, visit https://www.ice.gov/international-operations
To read more about HSI’s work to prevent child exploitation, visit https://www.ice.gov/predator