Belfast Telegraph

Man accused of banking 'vast' sums of cash earned by Romanian women trafficked into Northern Ireland claims income was from car dealing, High Court hears

By Alan Erwin

A man accused of banking "vast" sums of cash earned by Romanian women trafficked into Northern Ireland to work as prostitutes claims his income was from car dealing, the High Court heard on Friday.

Prosecutors alleged Spartacus Mihai is part of an organised crime gang exploiting victims who earned in excess of £125,000 from a sex trade centred in Banbridge, Co Down.

But the 20-year-old, of Henly Road in Ilford, Essex, has denied all knowledge of the suspected vice racket.

Crown counsel told a judge: "He said he buys and sells cars, that's why he had the money in his bank account."

Details emerged as the Romanian national failed in a renewed bid for bail.

Mihai and his 28-year-old brother Decebal, of Kenlis Street in Banbridge, are jointly charged with controlling prostitution, conspiracy to traffic within the United Kingdom, 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.

Opposing Spartacus Mihai's bail application, prosecution counsel contended: "While in Northern Ireland the brothers were depositing vast amounts of cash into UK bank accounts.

"It is believed to be around £100,000 earned from the prostitutes."

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

"Police believe he's part of an organised crime gang and if he was released he will continue to traffic victims, control prostitution and launder money."

Madam Justice McBride was told the probe is continuing, with further potential victims and witnesses to be interviewed.

"Police are currently investigating 16 telephone numbers and websites," the prosecutor added.

John O'Connor, defending, argued that Mihai should be bailed due to the expected time it will take to complete inquiries.

Refusing the application, however, the judge ruled that it was too soon to suggest delays in the case.

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