Unmasked: 18 women on new list of Europe's most-wanted fugitives

Connor Sephton, news reporter

Europol has revealed the names of Europe's most-wanted fugitives - and 18 of the 21 criminals on the list are women.

The EU crime agency says its list proves that women are equally capable of committing serious crimes as men.

According to Europol, the number of women engaged in criminal activity has increased in recent decades - potentially because technological progress and social norms have liberated them from the home and increased their participation in the crime market.

The 21 fugitives are wanted for grave offences like murder, drug trafficking, fraud, theft and human trafficking.

As part of the Crime Has No Gender campaign, 21 EU member states were asked to select one of their most-wanted criminals. Artwork covers the face of each criminal, with parts of the mask disappearing as the story unfolds to reveal their gender.

The fugitives include Elisabeth Gertrude Skarits, a 63-year-old Austrian national who is on the run and was last seen at a hotel in the summer of 2011. She is suspected of at least 12 cases of serious fraud in the real estate sector, with victims losing an estimated €4.2m (£3.6m).

Belgium is trying to track down Hilde Van Acker, who was sentenced in absentia to life imprisonment for the murder of British businessman Marcus John Mitchell in May 1996. It is believed she is on the run with her partner, Jean-Claude Lacote, who was also convicted.

The Czech Republic is seeking information about Iveta Tancosova, who was sentenced to seven-and-a-half years in prison after a young girl was lured to England under the pretence she would work as a nurse. Immediately after her arrival, her passport was taken and she was forced to work as a prostitute. Tancosova is still hiding from the law, and her location is unknown.

France is also seeking a woman suspected of human trafficking. Jessica Esohe Edosomwan is thought to be in France, Germany or Belgium, and she is among more than 20 people who were allegedly involved in the criminal network. The gang is said to have recruited young girls in Nigeria who were promised a new life in western Europe, only to be housed and fed in horrible conditions and ordered to repay high debts.

In Hungary, Ildiko Dudas is on the run. The 31-year-old was sentenced to six years in prison for drug trafficking and child abuse after being convicted of selling illegal substances in bars and nightclubs - taking her children with her as the transactions took place.

Italy wants help in its hunt for Serbian national Olivera Pertrovic Ristic, who was involved in tying up, hitting and strangling a 75-year-old man during a robbery. He later died of his injuries.

In Latvia, Angelina Sacjuka is on the run. She and an accomplice knocked a woman to the ground during a fight in October 2014 - punching and kicking her multiple times and breaking nearly all of her ribs. The victim suffered lethal damage to her vital organs and later died of her injuries. Following the attack, the criminals attempted to cover the victim's body with leaves.

Poland is hunting for Dorota Kazmierska, who was convicted for murder after a man was shot in the head with a firearm. Her 25-year sentence was delayed by six months because her son had health issues, but she did not return to prison afterwards. An arrest warrant has been in place since March 2018.

Men also appear on the list. Among them is Irish national James Kelly, who is wanted in the UK for drugs trafficking. The 57-year-old had conspired with others to import 24kg of cocaine and 2.1kg of heroin into Britain. When a lorry driver was stopped by customs officials, he was abducted and tortured. The victim's ear was cut off, boiling water was poured on him, and he was repeatedly beaten with knuckle-dusters and a sledgehammer.

According to Europol, these campaigns have proven to the extremely effective - with several fugitives being arrested or turning themselves in because of the pressure associated with the publicity.