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Man accused of trafficking and controlling prostitutes refused bail

A man accused of trafficking and controlling up to four prostitutes operating in parts of Northern Ireland must remain in custody, a High Court judge ruled on Monday.

Decebal Mihai, 28, was refused bail amid claims he exploited women who earned in excess of £125,000 from a sex trade centred in Banbridge, Co Down and Belfast.

Prosecutors also disclosed that police believe there may be other victims of the same alleged vice racket.

Mihai, a Romanian national of Kenlis Street in Banbridge, and his 20-year-old brother Spartacus, from Henly Road in Ilford, Essex, are jointly charged with controlling prostitution, human trafficking and concealing, converting and transferring criminal property.

They were detained after searches were carried out at Kenlis Street and a property on Belfast's Newtownards Road on May 25.

According to police four women were rescued from the two locations.

But all four refuse to co-operate with the investigation and have turned up at court appearances in support of the defendants.

The brothers were allegedly observed driving women to clients for sex, including trips to hotels, according to the prosecution.

Further research was said to have uncovered bank accounts and moneygram transfers of cash to Romania.

Crown lawyer Conor Maguire claimed £100,000 earned from the prostitutes over a three-year period was deposited in Northern Ireland.

A further £26,000 was said to have been wired to Romania.

One alleged victim transferred more than £12,000 to Decebal Mihai, while a second sent him over £10,000, the court heard.

A telephone account registered to the older brother is linked to seven different escort websites, it was claimed.

At one point he was allegedly stopped in a car with two women who each had boxes of condoms and £300 and £160 in cash in their bags.

Decebal Mihai denies all charges against him, insisting he was unaware any women at his address were working as prostitutes.

He told police that since moving to Northern Ireland he earned money as a labourer or working at a car wash.

Opposing bail, however, Mr Maguire said: "Police are concerned that there are other females out there potentially controlled by this applicant and his brother.

"There are currently investigating that, there's quite a substantial amount of telephone evidence to be checked through."

Defence counsel accepted a prima facie case has been established against his client, but stressed the alleged involvement in a crime gang was denied.

Refusing bail, Madam Justice McBride cited the risks of flight and interference with the investigation.

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