Police in Ho Chi Minh City have detained dozens of people, including pimps, for allegedly running two prostitution rings exclusively targeting foreigners in the downtown area.
At 0:45am on Wednesday, a task force of at least 100 police officers swooped on the Whete Lotus Hotel in Thi Sach Street in District 1, catching two couples in the act. The clients were foreigners, the police said, without revealing their nationalities.
Upon questioning the couples, the police continued to raid three restaurants in the same district: Hai Chi Em (Two Sisters) on Dong Du Street, Nhip Dieu (Rhythm) on Thi Sach Street, and Sinobar on Dong Du Street, seizing a number of records documenting the prostitution activities.
The police have detained 34 people involved pending further investigations. But they did not say whether the foreign clients were taken into custody.
During interrogation, 38-year-old Nguyen Thi Ngoc Loan, owner of the Sinobar restaurant, said she and Nguyen Thi Nguyet Lan, 33, connived with the restaurant staffs to sell sex exclusively to foreign clients.
The prostitutes would approach potential customers at the restaurant, open up to 3am every day, charging at least US$100 for each hotel tryst from which Loan or Lan took a cut of up to VND600,000. The pair each raked in around VND30 million ($1,414) per month, they said.
Loan also contributed half of the shares to jointly run the Nhip Dieu restaurant with Nguyen Thi Kim, 35, and Nguyen Thanh Hien, 36. Nhip Dieu also caters exclusively to foreigners.
32-year-old Pham Thi Hoa, owner of Hai Chi Em restaurant, used the same modus operandi for her ring, the police said.
It is not immediately clear if the three busted restaurants swapped prostitutes with one another and if their services are closely related. Further investigations would be underway, police said.
(L-R): Nguyen Thi Nguyet Lan and Pham Thi Hoa, who allegedly masterminded two prostitution rings targeting foreigners that were busted early Wednesday in downtown Ho Chi Minh City. Photo courtesy of Ho Chi Minh City Police
Prostitution is illegal in Vietnam. The social affairs ministry in August called for stricter fines against pimps and patrons in a bid to stem a surge of prostitution that followed the abolition of compulsory rehabilitation centers for sex workers last year.
Meanwhile, drug addicts are still subject to compulsory rehab.
The number of sex workers in Vietnam -- criminals according to the government -- increased last year and prostitution became harder to control, according to the social affairs ministry
A report by the ministry said the number grew to nearly 33,000 in 2013, up more than 9 percent from the previous year.
A report by newswire AFP in September quoted researchers as estimating that there are around 200,000 sex workers in Vietnam, full-time or occasional, of whom up to 40 percent are believed to be HIV-positive.
The civil society has been pressuring the government to legalize prostitution so that the industry could be regulated, triggering fierce debate from both sides of the camp.
The National Assembly, Vietnam’s legislature, is set to debate this issue at the biannual plenary session that opens later this month.