Belfast Telegraph

Man admits running east European vice ring in Belfast

By John Cassidy

A Czech man has pleaded guilty to running a prostitution racket in Belfast.

Josef Elias (51), of Dudley, England, pleaded guilty on arraignment at Belfast Crown Court to controlling prostitution between October 11, 2012 and November 16, 2013.

He further pleaded guilty to possessing criminal property on November 15, 2013, namely £1,263 in cash and converting criminal property into a Barclays bank account between October 11, 2012 and November 16, 2013.

Prosecution lawyer Rosemary Walsh told Judge Paul Ramsey QC that the guilty pleas were acceptable to the Crown.

She asked that two further charges, one of possessing criminal property, namely £180 in cash, and transferring criminal property to the Czech Republic, namely £542.71, be "left on the books and not to be proceeded without the leave of the Crown Court or the Court of Appeal''.

Judge Ramsey adjourned sentencing until later this week but told Elias that even though he was being released on continuing bail, "do not take that as any indication of what the sentence will be''.

No details were given in court about the nature of the case against Elias.

However, in March this year during a bail application, the High Court heard that two women who were discovered in a south Belfast townhouse suspected of being used as a brothel were "listless, skinny and caked in make-up".

The pair, both eastern European, were allegedly taken away in a vehicle by a man who booked the property online.

The court heard Elias was later detained in a luxury SUV vehicle with luggage containing sex toys and condoms.

During the refused bail application, prosecutors claimed that financial investigations have revealed £150,000 passing through bank accounts linked to him over a two-year period.

Elias, who described himself as a self-employed security officer, was arrested in Belfast last November.

Police were alerted after a man giving his name booked the townhouse off the Malone Road for two nights through an internet company.

Conor Maguire, prosecuting, told the court: "When the landlord checked on the premises he discovered two young eastern European women described as being listless, skinny and caked in make-up. There were signs that the premises had been used as a brothel."

Although the landlord declined to make a formal statement, he claimed Elias arrived at the house in a Silver BMW X5 and took the women away.

The accused was stopped the same day on Wellington Street and told police he was in Belfast on holiday, according to Mr Maguire.

He claimed a Czech woman who was with Elias admitted being in the city for a two-week period to work as a prostitute. More than £1,200 in cash was seized from the accused.

Searches of the vehicle recovered laptops, loose SIM cards and phones allegedly containing messages seeking sexual services, it was claimed.

Mr Maguire said luggage in the BMW contained sex toys, condoms, clothing and other paraphernalia associated with prostitution.

Although the accused was previously granted bail, he was returned to custody amid suspected breaches of his release conditions.

The judge said at the time: "There are so many unknowns and so many uncertainties that I cannot possibly grant Mr Elias bail."

Elias was later given bail and currently resides in England.

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