30th May 1999
By Frederica Jansz
Police decoys take in foreign ‘comfort girls’ while the hunt is on for bigtime pimps and madams
Song Danging looked anything but a prostitute. Small built with long dark hair depicting typical Chinese decorum, she did not fit the picture of a ‘comfort girl.’
Her appearance certainly belied her actions as Song Danging, from China, prepared to strip. Used to selling her charms, Ms. Danging was in for a rude shock that night, as the police, using a decoy lured her to a villa on Havelock Road, where she demanded Rs. 7000/= for two hours of sex.
Surprised at the high rate, police sleuths beat her down to Rs. 5,000/= after which she grudgingly agreed to ‘do the job.’
Barely able to speak the language, Ms. Danging managed in broken English to tell Nihal (the decoy) that she detested prostitution but was forced into using her body to earn more money to survive.
Yet another decoy Lucky, hiding in the bathroom, captured a picture of Ms. Song attempting to get on with the job with the first kiss. All hell broke loose with the flash however, as Ms. Song, like a startled fawn, first fled behind the bedroom curtains and then made a bee line for the bathroom with Nihal and Lucky hotly in pursuit.
In the midst of this confusion a loud tap was heard on the door and in burst the Bambalapitiya police yelling ‘raid, raid.’
Operating out of a starry casino in Colombo, Ms. Song told Nihal that she banked on at least three customers a night at the rate of USD 100 for two hours. “Not all of this is for me,” she said, adding that she shared her profit with the three-wheeler driver who drove her back and forth from her rendezvous and the pimp who ran the whole operation. She would not name the pimp.
In fact the driver of the three-wheeler who brought Ms. Song to the Villa, spotting police sleuths ready to conduct a raid, vanished with the Rs. 5,000/= (much to the consternation of the police investigative team). Ms. Danging had insisted the money be handed to the three-wheeler driver before she performed her act for the night.
Ms. Danging’s tears flowed freely sitting at the Bambalapitiya police station at around 1 a.m. on Friday 21 this month as she recounted her experiences saying she had a ten year old son at home, (in Colombo) and a husband back in China. Asked why she resorted to prostitution, she said money was hard to come by. She said she needed enough to send back home, and she could not survive in Colombo on a monthly USD 200/= salary which she earned working in a Chinese Fast Food restaurant in Colombo.
Her passport stated she was by profession unemployed but had been granted a visa to Sri Lanka to work as a technician at a Chinese Fast Food Restaurant.
Ms. Danging was released a day later after being produced before a magistrate who granted a bail of Rs. 500/=, a ludicrous sum when compared to the earnings of these twilight dames.
Sex of the foreign kind, appears to be thriving in the heart of Colombo as a Sunday Times investigation found that a liberalised tourism policy to grant a 30 day visa over the counter to nationals of 66 countries cannot control undesirables entering Lankan shores.
Our investigation learned that over 150 foreign women ply in Sri Lanka, the oldest profession in the world. Smooth call girl operators demand as much as US$ 100 for two hours of sex. A full night costs US$ 200/= and sexual aberrations can cost anything upto US$ 300/=
One top cop quipped, “Sri Lankans have always had a mania for anything imported, and now they will empty their pockets for foreign sex.”
On yet another night The Sunday Times team watching for action outside a popular hard rock café witnessed a foreign call girl operation which functions from an up-market residence at Colombo 7.
In this instance it was Thai girls. The Thai girls who reside at this house are booked through a ‘Madame’ who lives in Nugegoda. Here too, Colombo’s popular taxi the ‘tuk, tuks,’ were in operation, keeping a watch on the house and carrying back and forth the girls who had not been booked as a group.
Fair, sweet and coy, the four girls who were booked for that night boarded a white van with tinted glass, and made their way to a city hotel. Subsequently on being contacted, the Director Operations of this hotel flatly denied that the hotel was used by a foreign clientele indulging in prostitution. However, soon after, Kollupitiya police arrested a doormen of this same hotel for facilitating such nefarious activity. He was arrested outside a nearby hotel and has been dismissed from service since.
After following the van to its port of call for the night, The Sunday Times team toured the city of Colombo and witnessed yet another incident of high-class prostitution.
This time she was Russian. Emerging from a Casino and walking up Green Path, she looked sultry in a low cut sleeveless black dress with deep slits on the side, baring pretty legs. As she swayed up the popular highway, at around 11.30 p.m. she was propositioned, by the drivers of three shiny automobiles. One vehicle with two men, did a double take after spotting her and asked twice for her services. Rs. 7,000/= was the going rate. Deciding that either she was not worth the amount or maybe they did not possess the cash at that moment, each prospective client looked disappointed as they drove away.
Finally one lone middle-aged customer, in a red four-wheel drive pickup, managed to strike a deal, and for the lady from the country with the Iron Curtain, it was one more night of success.
A day before, on Thursday 20, yet another decoy, Anil, this time used by the Kollupitiya police, looked nervous as he waited for two Russian prostitutes to enter his room. Ploiakova Ekatarian (21) and Alexandrowa Elena (20) looked inviting as they entered his room booked for a sum of Rs. 1,500/= at a hotel on Duplication Road.
However their first question was anything but a turn on. “Where’s the money?” they demanded, as a sheepish Anil produced the required US$100/=. As the girls swayed upto him they began running their hands over his body.Kneading his back and shoulders the two girls slowly began to undress. By this time Anil was sweating. It was his first experience with a prostitute, and two Russians were more than a mere handful. Watching the door, Anil breathed a sigh, (of relief or disappointment one is not sure) as the Kollupitiya police burst in.
Police intelligence are on the lookout for ‘Yuri’ and ‘Ingar’ two Russian men who are believed to head the prostitution ring. Arrested foreign prostitutes have told police that Colombo is a thriving destination for sex and the money involved is stupendous in comparison to a mere US$ 5 or 10 that can be earned in Russia and China. Since sex in Thailand is legal, prostitution is available aplenty, and the girls say it is not easy to operate a lucrative business, compared to Colombo.
Entering the country on a one month holiday visa, the foreign ‘call girls’ or ‘comfort girls’ as some of them are known begin their trade soon after arrival. Extending their visas to include an additional two months, the girls brighten the lights of Colombo. The girls are rotated as after three months a fresh batch is brought in while the others are circled around South Asia, leaving Colombo for Malaysia, Thailand, the Philippines and India.
The attention of The Sunday Times was also drawn to an advertisement which appears in a daily English local newspaper with a provocative picture of a sultry maiden, with the words ‘Join The Party, Meet New Friends’ and an Indian telephone number.
The police found that all the girls had an overwhelming fear of naming the pimp or pimps who operate the mafia network. “Our families back in Russia will be harmed,” they whispered, terror shining in their eyes as they spoke.
One satisfied local male customer who spoke on grounds of anonymity, explained why he preferred a foreign prostitute to local girls. “They are clean, take the initiative and will live out your sexual fantasy,” he said, adding “they are fully worth Rs. 7,000/= and more.”
Yet another satisfied customer told The Sunday Times he spent Rs. 92,000/= on a hotel room with champagne thrown in for one night of pleasure with a Russian prostitute.
A high ranking police detective working on cracking the ring of foreign prostitution and who did not wish to be named said the problem was far more serious than what it appeared to be. He said the police suspect the underworld too to be linked to this operation which he said was well organised.
Claiming that the number of foreign prostitutes in Colombo has increased substantially over the past year, he said police believe some 200 prostitutes are in town, selling their charms to local businessmen “who are mostly of the new rich type.” This type of affluence has developed a voracious appetite for such flesh pots, as such there is no dearth of customers, he said.
Saying that by the year 2000 there may be just that many cases of HIV positive in Sri Lanka as a result of this trade,he said now the hunt is on for the pimps and madams.
The girls only get the takings of what is earned per customer, he said, claiming that the rest is collected by the mafia gang in control.
The modus operandi generally is for known customers to book the girls through a Madame or a pimp who would have a picture album of the girls in different poses. The price would depend on which girl is chosen, he said. Apart from this, many of the girls operate out of the glitzy casinos which have sprouted all over Colombo.
Last week a police decoy sat alone at a table inside a casino. Eyeing him suggestively, he was soon joined by a Thai and two Russian girls. Before he could make any real move however, the Russian girls, were picked up by local male customers and left, after agreeing on the price. The amount he said, was the average monthly earnings of a Sri Lankan.
Police sleuths insist the vice cannot be controlled unless the department for Immigration and Emigration takes the matter seriously and controls this type of tourist entering the country.
Following a Sunday Times investigation Lakshman Perera, Controller, Immigra tion and Emigration revealed that he had with immediate effect instructed immigration officers at Katunayake International Airport to impose stringent control on all single foreign females entering the country without a prior visa.
He said he has issued clear instructions that lone damsels from Russia and Thailand in particular should not be allowed a stay longer that one week, if they are unable to prove valid bona fides as to the purpose of their stay.
Mr. Perera said that after a front page news item in the newspaper last week, he has decided to tighten up on the issuing of tourist visas to female foreign nationals.
“It is high time we reviewed this situation in earnest,” Mr. Perera said, admitting that the foreign prostitution ring was a ‘menace.’
“Unfortunately while other countries are closing their doors we are opening ours,” he said, adding that in a bid to encourage tourism, the nationals of 66 countries are permitted to enter Sri Lanka without submitting a prior visa application. The moment they enter, their visas are stamped at Katunayake International Airport, allowing a 30 day stay.
It is important that Sri Lanka takes similar action he said claiming that a strict control on foreign visa applications is a must.
“A good tourist will arrange his visa through his travel agent,” he said, insisting that such a control would not hamper tourism.
Mr. Perera claimed that many ambassadors in Colombo have maintained they would prefer if their country nationals were to apply for visas through the right channels, rather than be allowed easy access into the country upon arrival at Katunayake. Mr. Perera said applications for extending foreign visas are usually made through foreign nationals doing business with the Board of Investment (BOI). He maintained that the laws of the BOI are being abused by some foreigners who secure visas and later engage in illegal activity.
Mr. Perera maintained that the investigations unit at Immigration and Emigration has received no intimation on the whereabouts of foreign prostitutes in Sri Lanka and has not been asked to take action against any. He added that in many instances immigration is informed through petitions or tip-offs of foreign passport holders who overstay their visas. “There is very little control on tourists entering the country,” he said.
Mr. Perera added that many of these girls leave Sri Lanka after the 30 day visa expires, and travel to the Maldives.After a few days, they return, and again are allowed a 30 day visit visa. He maintained that applications for extension of visas are not granted easily.
Mr. Perera said that to crack down on illegal passport holders the co-operation of the public was needed. He said a hotline 597511 or 597513 is available at the department for the public to report any foreign nationals believed to be engaged in suspicious activity.
The investigation unit of Immigration and Emigra- tion last Thursday 27, conducted a dawn raid on an alleged Chinese Health Clinic, which the sleuths say masquerades as a massage parlour.
Daya Ranasinghe, Head of this unit together with a team of three officers arrested three Chinese girls and the Chinese doctor in charge.
A subsequent interrogation with The Sunday Times present, revealed that the doctor and the three girls had been granted visas to enter Sri Lanka on a letter of recommendation by the Board of Investment for Sri Lanka (BOI).
The Chinese Mercy Medical (Pvt) Ltd, was granted BOI approval on June 26 1998. Two of the three girls arrested at the medical centre, had been granted visas to work in BOI approved garment factories as technicians. An investigation divulged that the girls have not and do not work as stated at these factories but work at the Chinese medical centre. One Chinese girl did not have her passport on her. She told investigators her Chinese boyfriend had gone back to China together with her passport. She could not explain why.
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