Bringing Light to the Darkness of Human Trafficking (Trafficking in Persons)

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KYOTO - A court on Tuesday sentenced a 30-year-old man to two and a half years in prison, suspended for four years, for forcing women into the sex trade to pay off "debts."

The Kyoto District Court found Yutaro Ogawa, founder and leader of the "recruiting" group, guilty of forcing two women into the sex industry in violation of the employment security law, in March and July 2017.

"The extensive, systematic and occupational crime was highly malicious. There is no room for leniency in the defendant's motive for gain," said Presiding Judge Satoshi Shibayama in handing down the ruling.

Shibayama ruled that, as ringleader, Ogawa bears heavier responsibility than his accomplices, but gave a more-lenient sentence than the unsuspended three-year term sought by prosecutors, deeming the way he recruited women did not rob them of their free will.

The group, which had about 20 members, lured women in Kyoto into an associated bar and charged them excessive bar bills which they could not pay, before pushing them into the sex trade to clear their "debts."

The practice -- which ensnared hundreds of women, including university students -- is believed to have pulled in more than 100 million yen in "recruitment" fees since July 2012.

The group had a training manual for recruiters, which included how to approach women on streets and how to decide which part of the sex trade to introduce them to.

Several other group members have already been found guilty of their roles, including a man who replaced Ogawa as leader at the end of 2017.