Commercial sex is illegal in Sri Lanka, but there is a well-entrenched industry which operates with little fanfare and the occasional police raid.
The up market niche of the industry, which use foreign sex-workers, has operations run by foreigners as well as locals.
Bananaescort.net had also placed an advertisement in the tourist publication, Explore Sri Lanka, which showed a part of a scantily-clad young Caucasian woman, together with a mobile phone number and web address.
“We had to track them for several days before we found where they were operating from,” says Immigration Officer Upali Kannangara who was part of the investigation team.
The service operated with the girls going out to clients who were booked mainly in city hotels where clients paid around US$100 for two hours of sex.
Under Sri Lanka’s immigration laws, visas can be revoked without assigning a reason.
The foreign nationals who operated the net-based sex service were on tourist visas, and had no work permits in addition to engaging in an illegal activity.
“Foreigners are welcome in this country, but they are not entitled to do illegal activities, illegal jobs or engage in antisocial activities,” says Controller of Immigration P B Abeykoon.
“We acted on a public complaint. When the public comes to know that foreigners are doing illegal activities, they can complain to me and we will take action.” Immigration sleuth eventually tracked the girls to a house in Kynsey Road, Borella, a suburb in Colombo.
“We found six girls and one man,” says Immigration Officer Amitha Perera. “We arrested them and took them to our detention camp. They were deported on April 18th and their passports blacklisted.”
A 25 year-old Ukrainian born woman who went by the alias ‘Kelly’ appeared to be the ‘Madam’ who masterminded operation, while the man, Armen appeared to be her assistant.
Both had entered the country on Israeli passports, but they also had Ukrainian passports.
‘Kelly’ whose real name was Anna, had a Ukrainian passport issued as Ganna, while the birth date of the male accomplice’s two passports were different.
Earlier in March, immigration sleuths had arrested and deported another Ukranian national, Svitlana, who went by the alias of ‘Maggie’.
She had been in Sri Lanka for at least five years.
When immigration officers raided her apartment in Wellawatte they found three girls and one male assistant.
Other persons are known to have been in Sri Lanka for more than ten years, running call-girl services.
A foreigner can come to Sri Lanka on three months visa and extend it by the expedient of going to the Maldives or India and coming back.
Some foreign sex workers also accompany clients to Maldivian resorts and come back to the country.
“Some people have also married Sri Lankan citizens,” says Immigration Officer K Jeyaratnam. “They are abusing the facility of spouse visas.”
Thousands of young girls from the former Soviet republics started to go abroad to Western European, Middle Eastern and even Asian countries like Sri Lanka after years of economic mis-management resulted in the collapse of the Soviet Union.
The Russian Ruble crashed shortly after the political collapse due to excessive money printing and high domestic inflation resulting in a massive fall in living standards.
The simultaneous rise of crime and the so-called Russian mafia has spurred the export of commercial sex.
Though most Sri Lankan girls go abroad to work as housemaids for less than US$100 a month, some are engaged as sex-workers in the Middle East and even in Singapore.
Several hundred Chinese and Thai girls are also engaged in commercial sex services in Colombo.Charges for Chinese girls are less than half the rates of Caucasian girls coming from Eastern European and Central Asian Republics.
Salaries in Asian countries are much lower than even the ex-Soviet republics and China also has an undervalued exchange rate.