Pair trafficking sex slaves out of Belfast are jailed in Sweden
Gang leaders who operated a prostitution network in Belfast and trafficked young women out of Northern Ireland have been jailed for four years.
Ilie Ionut (31) and his female associate, Ancuta Schwarz (28), were sentenced at a Swedish court yesterday for human trafficking, prostitution and aggravated procuring – the legal term for 'pimping'.
The convictions followed a huge police investigation involving the PSNI, Swedish and Romanian authorities.
Evidence presented to the court said Ionut controlled prostitution in Belfast and arranged for young women to be trafficked from Northern Ireland to other countries. Schwarz was accused of organising premises where the prostitution occurred.
Some of the women involved were said to have been forced to have sex with up to 20 men a day.
The women were made to hand over most of the money they earned from selling sexual services.
The gang leaders used threats, intimidation and physical violence to keep the women in line.
Schwarz was arrested in Belfast in April and extradited to Sweden, while Ionut was detained in the Romanian capital of Bucharest two weeks later and transported to Stockholm under a European Arrest Warrant.
The key prosecution witness was a 21-year-old woman.
She said she was taken by the pair from her Romanian home and trafficked to a brothel in Dublin.
She said she was then moved to sex dens in Belfast and Galway before being flown to Sweden.
The witness, nicknamed 'Skinny', said they lured her from her home to work posing for a web camera and promised a large income.
But when she arrived in Ireland she was told there would be no web posing, only selling sex. Prosecutors said Ionut led the business, travelling from Northern Ireland to Sweden with several women over the past two years.
He was accused of arranging contact between sex slaves and their buyers.
Prosecutors said he booked accommodation, advertised sexual services on the internet and collected money.
Armed police took Schwarz into custody after raiding an apartment off the Malone Road where she was living.
Schwarz's arrest followed a large police operation into a controlled network of brothels.
Codenamed Burgrave, the investigation involved a number of European law enforcement agencies.
Two female suspected victims of sex trafficking were rescued in the Belfast operation and items including documents, phones and computers seized.
Speaking from Stockholm yesterday, DCI Douglas Grant, from the PSNI's Organised Crime Branch, said: "I am delighted to be here in Sweden today to acknowledge a successful outcome to a joint operation involving the Police Service of Northern Ireland and Swedish police.
"Operation Burgrave is an investigation into an Organised Crime Group suspected of involvement in controlling prostitution and human trafficking in Northern Ireland and Sweden.
"PSNI officers will now be involved in discussions with the Public Prosecution Service in Belfast to explore how matters may be progressed in Northern Ireland. For this reason, I am unable to comment further."
STORY SO FAR
Since April this year more than a dozen potential human trafficking victims have been referred for specialist support. Often they are lured with false promises of paid employment, intimidated and have little idea how to seek help. Last month it was revealed that binmen and taxi drivers are among those to be trained in spotting victims.