Portuguese police freed 47 young footballers, 36 of them minors, from a human trafficking ring that lured them to a training camp in the north of the country, the SEF immigration agency said yesterday.

The male victims, from Africa, Asia and South America, were taken into state custody and will testify before a judge before returning to their home countries. The SEF also seized several “passports and residency permits” in the operation, dubbed “El Dorado”, which started on Monday.

Local media reported that the victims were kept in buildings owned by the Bsports football academy in Riba d’Ave. One of the suspects was named as Mario Costa, an official of the Bsports academy and a former president of the Portuguese football league, who resigned on Wednesday but denied any wrongdoing.

Portugal’s youth and sports minister Joao Paulo Correia condemned the illegal recruitment of footballers as “shocking and unacceptable” and said the government would “take action” to fight this kind of human trafficking.

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