Romanians 'lured to work for free and went hungry'
Twelve Romanian workers allegedly lured to Northern Ireland were denied wages and left living hungry and exhausted in cramped and sub-standard conditions, the High Court heard.
A judge was told the nine men and three women said what they endured was worse than the poverty they had left behind.
Prosecutors claimed all earnings by the group, discovered at a house in Portadown, Co Armagh, were taken by a fellow national who "enticed" them to the UK.
Ioan Lacatus allegedly informed them the money for long shifts in a factory, car wash and other workplaces would go towards paying their debts to him.
It was claimed that he responded to requests for more food by telling them they should eat stones.
The 31-year-old, with an address at Hanover Street in Portadown, is charged with 12 counts each of human trafficking and forced labour. He is further accused of concealing criminal property and acting as an unlicensed gang master. All of the alleged offences occurred between May and August this year.
Bail was denied due to concerns he may flee or interfere with the investigation if released.
Police launched an inquiry after a number of eastern Europeans told them they had been put to work without receiving any wages and made to live in poor conditions.
Officers discovered 12 alleged victims among 20 Romanians living in a house at Charles Street in the town, the court heard.
Prosecutor Fiona O'Kane said they claimed to have been offered monthly wages of €500, free food, accommodation and transport to come to Northern Ireland. Describing the house in which they lived, she claimed several people shared bedrooms by sleeping on cramped mattresses.
Lacatus allegedly warned the workers not to leave the house because they would be arrested or encounter hostile locals.
Responding to claims that his client was responsible for the complainants' alleged suffering, defence barrister Andrew Moriarty predicted that CCTV footage will show them out drinking in pubs.
Lacatus, who has lived in Northern Ireland for six years and in receipt of benefits on medical grounds, disputes earnings were paid into his bank account.
He says he cashed cheques and then handed over the money to the workers, the court heard.
Refusing bail, Mr Justice O'Hara said at present there seemed to be a strong prima facie case against the accused.