U.S. Amb. Recalled Amid Prostitution Ring Probe

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There are few coincidences at Foggy Bottom. The sudden departure of Reno L. Harnish III, U.S. ambassador to Azerbaijan, from Baku today is no different. Local and regional media are rife with speculations over the human smuggling ring that trafficked young Azeri women to be sex slaves in Florida. The F.B.I. suspects an inside job. Replacing the tarnished Mr. Harnish is Anne Elizabeth Derse, a career foreign service officer who has held the rank of minister-counselor. And neither President Bush nor the State Department mentioned the dirty business, for which there is a high demand in the Sunshine State.

According to Trud, a famed Moscow daily, the local mob was meeting the demands in Florida for “scorching brunettes” by trafficking young Azeri girls to be sex slaves. These girls were reportedly receiving valid U.S. visas through the embassy in Baku. A former translator for Amb. Harnish was under investigation for helping the girls obtain visas with forged documents, UPI said. That translator,
Zarifa Dzhabieva (also Jabiyeva), has since been found dead. She was stabbed between 30 and 50 times by unidentified assailants, who ransacked her apartment but did not take any valuables, local news reports said.

Amb. Harnish has kept mum on the matter since the scandal broke last month, letting instead his press secretary to do the talking. He has been a low-profile diplomat for much of his career. Baku was his first assignment as ambassador.

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Photo of young Anne E. Derse when she was freshman at Macalester College. (Edited from the full page of the 1972-73 yearbook.)

Ms. Derse (AFP photo) was most recently the director for biodefense policy at the Homeland Security Council in the White House. She was also minister-counselor for economic affairs at the U.S. Embassy in Iraq and minister-counselor for economic affairs at the U.S. Mission to the European Union [EU]. She received her bachelor’s degree from Macalester College and her master’s degree from the Johns Hopkins University.

President Bush announced his plans to elevate Ms. Derse to her new post on April 13, just weeks after the scandal broke in Azerbaijan.

Mr. Bush, too, said absolutely nothing about trafficking sex slaves. The United States — along with Canada, Europe and Australia — is principally a destination for many trafficked persons. The State Department estimates that 18,000 to 20,000 people arrive in the U.S. mostly for sexual exploitation. Due to the nature of the business, no accurate estimates are available.

Azeri journalist Anar Orujov, part of the Caucasus Media Investigation Center, revealed that an Azeri girl as a sex slave may bring in US$7,000 to US$100,000 annually. Globally human trafficking generates as much as US$10 billion a year.

  • The U.N. Office of Drug and Crimes [UNODC] released its latest “Trafficking in Persons: Global Patterns” this month.
  • The U.S. State Department’s “Trafficking in Persons Report 2005” rates countries with a tier system.
  • U.S. H.H.S. campaign asks Americans for help in saving victims and identifying traffickers.
  • Humantrafficking.org, a State-sponsored NGO, provides updates and overviews of the dirty trade.
  • Call the national hotline (1-888-3737-888) if you suspect human trafficking in the U.S.
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