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Massive computer hacking operation uncovered in Belfast, court hears

Operation was producing counterfeit Spanish La Liga football tickets, say police

By Alan Erwin

An investigation into suspected human trafficking uncovered a massive alleged computer hacking operation at a Belfast apartment, the High Court has heard.

Police found a laptop containing bank details for multiple individuals and set up to print counterfeit Spanish La Liga football tickets, prosecutors said.

Details emerged as bail was refused to a Romanian man arrested in the raid at Alfred Street in the city on June 28 last year.

Daniel Marincu faces charges of possessing articles for use in fraud and fraud by false representation.

The 32-year-old, of no fixed address, was detained after police carried out an intelligence-led search to identify any victims of people trafficking, a judge was told.

Two women in the flat with him confirmed they were escorts, but denied knowing the accused.

Marincu is not accused of any exploitation or trafficking offences.

Instead, Crown lawyer Fiona O'Kane claimed a laptop used by him contained a programme capable of accessing other computers.

Photos on the screen showed bank and credit card statements for another individual in the same apartment complex.

Another command window showed an attempt to get into a government pensions website, it was alleged.

Investigations launched by cyber crime officers revealed multiple identity cards for a variety of foreign nationals were stored in files on the device, the court heard.

Names, addresses, dates of birth, phone and credit card numbers, passwords and log-in details were all detected.

"It was a massive amount of data, one terabyte in well-structured directory folders," Mrs O'Kane said.

"There were also images and files to enable printing of suspected counterfeit La Liga football tickets."

Marincu admitted owning the laptop, claiming he bought it in London but declining to say who from.

According to the prosecutor he told police that he only used it for Facebook.

The accused, who allegedly arrived in Belfast two weeks before he arrest, was seeking bail to live at an address in Newtownstewart, Co Tyrone.

Despite a Romanian associate offering a £5,000 cash surety, Mrs O'Kane claimed he could use connections in Spain, England and his native country to flee.

Defence counsel Michael Boyd told the court Marincu came to Northern Ireland after developing a relationship with a woman he met online.

"He did not know she was involved in the sex industry," the barrister said.

"When he met her at the property in Albert Street it turned out to be a house associated with human trafficking, prostitution and generalised criminality."

Marincu claims any computer hacking was carried out by others at the address accessing the laptop.

Denying bail, however, Mr Justice Deeny said: "There's a strong prima facie case against him, given the amount of information, of serious offences of fraud.

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