A man from the Czech Republic who arranged for women from his country to be brought to Belfast to work as prostitutes in brothels that he ran has been jailed to two years.
Bronislav Rybensky (32) was described as the "principal organiser" in the criminal enterprise which involved Czech women flying to Dublin, travelling to Belfast, and then being taken to various apartments being used as brothels in the city centre.
Belfast Crown Court heard that Rybensky – who paid for their flights and for advertising their services on an escort website – took 50% of the cash they earned to repay their debts to him.
A second man, 23-year-old Christopher Lyle Samuel Lamont (right), from Cameron Street in Belfast, appeared alongside Rybensky in the dock and was handed a six-month sentence after he admitted two counts of brothel keeping.
Crown prosecutor Toby Hedworth QC told Belfast Recorder Judge David McFarland that Rybensky, whose address was given as HMP Maghaberry, committed a series of offences over a period spanning from March 2009 to August 2011. Working together with a man in the Czech Republic, Rybensky contacted the women in his home country, providing them with information on their flights.
Mr Hedworth said "most of them knew they would be travelling to Northern Ireland to work as prostitutes", with a majority of them staying and working for a fortnight before returning home. After they arrived in Belfast, Rybensky picked the women up and brought them to the brothels.
Officers discovered that Rybensky had placed 137 separate ads on an escort website between March 2009 and July 2011.
During a subsequent search of Rybensky's flat, SIM cards linked to the mobile phone numbers advertised on the website were discovered.
Mr Hedworth told the court police raided an apartment at Ashburne Place in Belfast in May 2011. Two women were present, one of whom told police she had come to Northern Ireland on the understanding that she would be modelling.
Two days after the raid at Ashburne Place, Lamont rented an apartment at Library Square which was then used as a brothel. Lamont's involvement came to light when that apartment was raided by police in June 2011, when he was found in the premises along with three Czech women.
In July 2011 Lamont leased a flat at College Central Apartments – in the same block of apartments where Rybensky was living at the time – and when that apartment was subsequently searched on August 11, 2011 Lamont arrived during the raid.
The following day Rybensky's apartment was searched and a number of items linked to the brothels were found.
Both men were arrested and, as a result of the detailed police investigation, it emerged that around £23,000 had passed through Rybensky's bank account – despite the fact he was unemployed and not claiming any benefits.
Mr Hedworth said Rybensky was the "principal organiser" of a "large-scale criminal operation", adding that the Czech man acted as the women's "de facto pimp"
Rybensky subsequently pleaded guilty to one count of controlling prostitution between March 2009 and August 25, 2011, two counts of brothel keeping, one of human trafficking and one charge of possession of criminal property.
Lamont admitted to two charges of brothel keeping.
Sentencing the pair, Judge David McFarland said he accepted the women "travelled entirely voluntarily" and knew they were going to be "providing sexual services".
The judge said: "This is not a case of trickery, exploitation or force being applied."
Telling Rybensky that he played a "central role", the judge handed him a two-year sentence of which one year will be spent in custody and the other on licence.
Lamont, who Judge McFarland said was a "small cog", was handed a six-month prison sentence.