Belfast Telegraph

Human trafficker 'targeted his own family', court hears

A Hungarian man charged with human trafficking in Belfast allegedly targeted members of his own family, a court heard today.

Zoltan Raffael is accused of taking wages off workers claiming they were in "debt bondage" to him over the arrangement of jobs, police said.

Five alleged victims have made complaints to detectives and been moved into safe house accommodation.

New details of the suspected slave labour racket emerged as 39-year-old Raffael was refused bail.

He is charged with three counts of human trafficking, another three of acting as an unlicensed gang master, and a further money laundering offence.

The charges relate to two women and a man allegedly trafficked earlier this summer.

Raffael, with an address at Eia Street in Belfast, was arrested after voluntarily handing himself in to police last month.

He denies the allegations and has provided a full account at interview.

A 38-year-old woman charged with similar offences is currently on police bail ahead of her first scheduled court appearance next month.

Raffael, said to have health problems linked to his morbid obesity, appeared via prison video-link for his bail application at Belfast Magistrates' Court.

Opposing his release due to the risk of interference with witnesses, a detective constable said alleged victims claim they were threatened.

"This is a case where victims were actually family members," she told the court.

"The victims will say they were in debt bondage and there's outstanding debts."

Raffael allegedly paid for their flights and arranged employment for them at a chicken factory in Northern Ireland.

It was claimed that he then started taking their earnings.

But defence counsel Mark Farrell countered: "It's the defendant's case that there's been a fall out and the injured parties were trying to get their own back.

"This isn't a case of wholesale people trafficking for money and fees, these are people who wanted to come to the UK."

He added: "The defendant's case is that he effectively gets them jobs - there's no actual evidence of any threats, intimidation, coercion or anything sinister." 

A £2,000 cash surety was also offered in a bid to allay any fears Raffael my flee if release.

However, District Judge Fiona Bagnall denied bail based on the potential risk of interference with witnesses.

The accused was remanded into custody to appear in court again in four weeks time.

Belfast Telegraph Digital


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