Trafficking victim's relief as she avoids jail for same crime
A Romanian mother trafficked to Northern Ireland to work as a prostitute wept in court yesterday as her year-long sentence for conspiracy to traffic and money laundering was suspended.
Judge Patricia Smyth told Elena-Cristina Cazacu (31) that while her offences "are always serious, the court cannot lose sight of the fact that the National Crime Agency also consider you a victim".
This, the judge said, was a significant finding and "in my view the court should attach considerable weight to that determination".
The Belfast Crown Court judge said she was satisfied that, given her guilty pleas, clear record and little likelihood of reoffending, her jail term should be suspended for two years.
Cazacu, who is living in a safe house provided by the women's support group Solice Trust, had admitted conspiring with two brothers to traffic her cousin to be exploited.
She also admitted converting criminal property of nearly £3,000 in cash she sent home to her family by way of a MoneyGram transfer, both between January and April 2017.
Prosecuting counsel Rosemary Walsh had previously told the court that the two brothers, who have since been jailed, had been under surveillance at their Banbridge address, and Cazacu became part of that investigation upon her arrival in January 2017.
"It was noted that she would drive the brothers' vehicles frequently and it was discovered she would be driving herself and/or her cousin to outcalls where sexual services would be provided to paying customers," said Ms Walsh.
She said that initially any cash earned by her was given to one of the brothers, to whom she owed money, but once the debt was paid, was allowed to keep some for herself, which she sent home.
Ms Walsh said Cazacu's relationship with her cousin was "very close and mutually supportive" and "there is no suggestion that the defendant was forcing or coercing her cousin into carrying out any activity".
Defence QC Ronan Lavery said it was accepted that Cazacu was herself "a vulnerable person, a victim of human trafficking, and of course it is vulnerable people who become victims of human trafficking".
Detective Inspector Mark Bell from the PSNI's Modern Slavery and Human Trafficking Unit said: "The wider investigation by detectives from the Modern Slavery and Human Trafficking Unit into a Romanian crime gang resulted in the successful conviction of Decebel and Spartacus Mihai last year.
"These two brothers were involved in trafficking women into, around and out of Northern Ireland for the purposes of sexual exploitation.
"Thankfully, following their arrests in 2017, these women are now safe."
Mr Bell said he believes that police have now brought all of those people responsible in this case before the courts.
"Elena was involved in driving a victim around Northern Ireland and beyond, so that she could provide sexual services in exchange for money," he said.
"This was an extremely complex case and following Elena's arrest, she disclosed that she was also a victim of human trafficking. Elena has now been identified as a potential victim by the National Crime Agency, a decision that was reached on the balance of probabilities.
"I want to urge anyone involved in human trafficking and exploitation, even if you carry this out under pressure and on behalf of others, this is still a crime. In this case, a young woman was subjected to sexual exploitation, denying her right to freedom and safety. I appeal to anyone in this situation to come forward to police and we can handle these issues sensitively."
He said that while Cazacu has been convicted, she is now also receiving the support that she needs.
"Victims of human trafficking are subjected to a degrading life which violates their human rights. In many cases, the victims are terrified, cannot understand or speak English and don't have access to their own passport or money," he added.