A pimp has been jailed for 44 years by a Spanish court after branding women he forced to work as prostitutes with a barcode.

The leader of the Romanian criminal gang, named only as Iulan T, was convicted by the Supreme Court in Madrid after trafficking women into Spain, where he forced them to work as prostitutes.

In handing down the sentence, the court described the man's behaviour as "horrific", noting the "particular cruelty" he displayed in branding the women with tattoos resembling barcodes, El Mundo reported.

Thirteen others were sentenced in connection with the gang's activities, including the ringleader's wife and daughter, as well as other family members. The gang trafficked women into the country under the pretence of finding them legitimate jobs, before forcing them to work as prostitutes in the Spanish capital.

The women came from underprivileged families, and some were under-aged, the court heard. They were subjected to extreme violence, and tattooed with the name of the gang leader and his nickname. In some cases they were also tattooed with the amount of money the gang claimed they owed.

One 19-year-old woman who escaped the gang was tracked down by hired thugs, who held her captive for several days, tortured her and tattooed a barcode to her wrist. She told the court she was tied to a radiator, starved for days, beaten, and had bleach rubbed onto her face.

Women forced into prostitution said that he had videos of the torture, which he would use to intimidate them and view for his pleasure.

In its ruling, the court stressed the pimp had taken "pleasure in the suffering caused to the victim".