An international investigation into a suspected human trafficking and prostitution operation in the Greater Belfast area has identified six more potential victims who need to be interviewed by the police. The investigation started in June last year when a woman reported that she had escaped from two of the alleged perpetrators. She claimed that she was deceived by them to come to Northern Ireland from Romania with a false offer of a job at Amazon, but was forced to work as a prostitute instead. The court heard these details on Monday during a proceeds of crime hearing, where the two alleged perpetrators and another man were ordered to forfeit £822.09, which was the only amount that could be recovered from them, after they made £167,000 from their criminal activities.
The two alleged perpetrators are Petru Balogh, 26, and his girlfriend Flortina Ciurar, 35, both of Hugh Street in Belfast. They are accused of controlling prostitution for gain, brothel keeping and money laundering offences. They allegedly paid for the flight of the woman who reported them and brought her to a flat in south Belfast where they told her that she had to repay her debt by providing sexual services for money. They also allegedly paid for the travel of two other women who were found at the same flat working as prostitutes. The prosecution said that they had control over a bank account linked to Ciurar where large sums of money were deposited. They also allegedly paid for several adverts on adult websites.
The third accused is Ioan Mihai, 29, of Coombe Hill Park in Belfast. He is also charged with controlling prostitution for gain, brothel keeping and money laundering offences. He is allegedly connected to Balogh by money transfers on the same date that he rented a second flat in Newtownabbey where two Romanian prostitutes were located. He was present at the flat when the police arrived, but he claimed that he was only there as a “sex buyer”. The prosecution said that £45,000 believed to be the proceeds of prostitution passed through his bank account.
The prosecutor, Connel Trainor, opposed the bail applications of the three defendants, who are all Romanian nationals. He said that they could either abscond or interfere with the investigation, which involved six other potential victims who reside in Romania.
The defence lawyers for the three defendants argued that they had family ties in Northern Ireland and denied any involvement in human trafficking. Ciurar’s lawyer, Sean O’Hare, suggested that she may also be a potential victim because she had no control over her bank accounts and had been involved as a sex worker. Balogh’s lawyer, Joel Lindsay, said that his client gave a full explanation to the police and had no trappings of wealth. Mihai’s lawyer, Joe Brolly, said that his client had nothing to do with the allegation of sex trafficking and had no contact with the woman who reported it.
The judge, Mr Justice Scoffield, granted bail to the three defendants on condition that they lodge cash sureties, live at approved addresses under curfew and surrender any passports. He also ordered them not to leave Northern Ireland without the permission of the police.