Two Romanian women arrested in Belfast on suspicion of involvement in a trans-European prostitution racket are to be extradited to Sweden.
A judge at Belfast Crown Court yesterday granted an application from the Swedish authorities for the women to be transferred to custody in Stockholm.
Ancuta Schwarz (27) and Aura Gabriela Anghel (20), both with an address at Malone Grove, Belfast, were detained in the city yesterday after police raided suspected brothels as part of a joint investigation – codenamed Burgrave – involving a number of European law enforcement agencies.
Two female suspected victims of sex trafficking were rescued in the Belfast operation. Items including documents, phones and computers were seized.
Judge Gordon Kerr QC granted the extradition bid during a brief hearing yesterday afternoon.
Michael Boyd, a lawyer for the suspects, told the court that his clients consented to the application to take them to Sweden. "They intend on vigorously contesting the case back in Sweden," he added. After emerging from the dock to sign their consent, the women were remanded in custody pending their transfer to Sweden.
Ms Schwarz and Ms Anghel spoke only to confirm that they had given their consent and were aware there was no right to appeal the extradition ruling.
A number of other potential victims have been found in Sweden during the police operation, which has involved officers from Northern Ireland, Sweden and Romania working in conjunction with EU agencies Eurojust and Europol.
The investigation into the organised crime racket suspected of involvement in controlling prostitution and human trafficking has been ongoing for months.
PSNI detectives are also probing suspected money laundering.
The operation has been made possible through a Joint Investigation Team (JIT) agreement between the UK and Sweden.
Eurojust, the EU agency set up to promote co-ordination between member states in relation to serious and organised crime, partly funded the investigation.
It was also supported by Europol, the EU's law enforcement agency.
The officer in charge of the PSNI Organised Crime Branch investigation, Detective Chief Inspector Douglas Grant, said: "We believe we have halted the activities of an organised crime gang involved in controlling prostitution and human trafficking in Northern Ireland, Sweden and Romania."