A Nigerian-born British hospital nurse who used ‘voodoo’ magic to traffic Nigerian prostitutes into Europe was yesterday found guilty in the first case of its kind in the UK.
Josephine Iyamu, formerly of south London, used a witch doctor to convince her victims they were under her control and exploited them to fund a lavish lifestyle including jaunts to Europe and £700 designer shoes.
The 53-year-old was a ringleader of an international human trafficking crime network and lived in a huge Nigerian mansion complete with a servants’ quarters.
Iyamu charged each of her victims Euro 30,000 and Euro 38,000 to arrange for their travel to Europe – profiting from more than Euro 15,000 from one victim alone via wire transfers and cash payments.
She would first make the vulnerable women undergo ‘Juju’ ceremonies which would involve them drinking blood containing worms and eating the heart of a chicken.
The victims would then be forced to endure an arduous five day journey to the Libyan coast – which saw them shot at, ambushed and gang raped.
They would then catch an inflatable boat crammed with hundreds of people to Italy before being moved into Germany to work as prostitutes.
German police identified Iyamu as the ringleader of a Nigerian human trafficking operation after a brothel owner reported suspicions over one of his workers’ paperwork last January.
Iyamu and her husband Efe Ali-Imaghodor, 60, were arrested at Heathrow Airport on August 24 last year after travelling back from Nigeria.
Police found her in possession of seven mobile phones and more than 30 SIM cards linked them to the German investigation.
Officers also discovered a piece of paper detailing a list of items needed as part of the ‘Juju’ ceremonies and another with telephone numbers of criminal associates.
Iyamu was convicted by a jury of five counts of arranging to facilitate travel of another person for exploitation following a trial at Birmingham Crown Court.
She was also found guilty of perverting the course of justice after paying Nigerian police to arrest one of the victims’ relatives in a bid to stop the woman giving evidence against them in the trial while both were in police custody in the UK.
Iyamu, who was dressed in a turquoise shawl, held her hand to her mouth bowed her head as the verdict was read out.
Judge Richard Bond said: ‘This is the first case in England and Wales under the new 2015 act whereby people have been trafficked from one country into another country. This is going to set a precedent.’
Iyamu – known as ‘Madam Sandra’ – had worked 37 days in 2016/17 as an agency nurse in south east London hospitals for NHS Capitol Staffing Services.
She lived with husband Ali-Imaghodor, a cloakroom attendant, in an ex-council home in Bermondsey, south east London.
The National Crime Agency (NCA) investigation found the victims – aged 24 to 30 – were made to undergo Juju rituals which exercised a control ‘tighter than chains.’
They were so terrified by the threat of voodoo magic that they had to undergo another black magic ‘revokation’ ceremony to undo the oath they took to pay Iyamu.
Kay Mellor, NCA senior investigating officer, said Iyamu, originally from Liberia, became a British citizen in 2009 due to her nursing qualifications – which allowed her to be prosecuted in the groundbreaking case.
She is the first British national to be convicted of human trafficking crimes not involving British victims and which were not committed in the country.
Ms Mellor said: ‘She was a registered nurse, she was an agency nurse and that totally goes against for me what a nurse is – somebody who looks after people, who makes them better and certainly what she was doing was totally opposed to what in my mind a nurse should be.’
The trafficking investigation – Operation Redroot – began after one victim was arrested and told German police of Iyamu’s crimes. The victim’s phone was then wire-tapped to gather evidence.
The prostitute last January told German police she was born into a ‘relatively poor family’ in Nigeria and was told she could earn huge amounts of money working as a prostitute in Europe.
Juju is a form of voodoo with ‘highly respected’ priests in West Africa.
The Nigerian victims visited the priest multiple times and for up to a week as part of the oath-swearing ceremony.
Ms Mellor said: ‘They exert an insidious control which an expert witness has said is more powerful than chains.’
Describing the ceremony, the officer added: ‘They were given blood containing worms to drink.
‘A chicken was used to hit her naked body on the back and on the chest. She had to eat the heart of the chicken which had just been killed. And the priest would cut their skin and mouth with a razor blade.’
Iyamu then took snippets of her victims’ head and pubic hair and kept them in individualised packages and she told the girls: ‘You have now eaten from the devil and if you do not pay, the devil will kill you.’
The victims would then undertake a ‘horrendous’ journey across the Sahara desert from Nigeria to the Libyan coast.
They were shot at in an overcrowded bus filled, ambushed and gang-raped – before waiting for up to two weeks before being shipped to Italy on an inflatable boat.
The bus journey would take five days and it could be up to two weeks before an inflatable boat could come to take them to Italy.
The victims were moved to a migration camp in Verona before being given false identification papers allowing them to travel to Germany where brothels are legal.
Iyamu forced one of her victims to have an abortion in Italy after being raped and impregnated on the journey.
Ms Mellor said: ‘Despite still bleeding, Madam Sandra told her that she had to start work as soon as possible, she needed to pay the extra Euro 500 to cover the cost of the abortion.’
German police found text messages from Iyamu to her victim forcing her to work as a prostitute while still bleeding from her operation.
The victim wrote: ‘Have you forgotten that you sent me straight back to work right after my abortion, even though I as still bleeding?’
Iyamu replied: ‘Time is dragging on. Pull your finger out!’
Following her conviction, she will be sentenced on July 4.