TWO Romanians suspected of being involved in an international criminal network which trafficked women into Ireland have gone on trial in Sweden.
Alleged gang leader Ilie Ionut (31) and a female associate, Ancuta Schwarz (28) are facing charges of human trafficking for sexual purposes and aggravated procuring – the legal term for pimping – at a court in Stockholm. Both deny the charges against them.
They were arrested following a major international inquiry involving Swedish police and the PSNI.
It is alleged that they were involved in trafficking and prostitution on both sides of the Irish Border.
A key witness in the trial, which began yesterday, will be a Romanian woman who has claimed that she was trafficked into Ireland and forced to work in brothels here before being trafficked onwards to Sweden.
Mr Ionat is alleged to have managed the business while living in Galway and later Belfast, while Ms Schwarz is alleged to have organised hotels and apartments where the prostitution took place.
She was arrested in April in Belfast and he was arrested a fortnight later in the Romanian capital, Bucharest. Both were extradited to Sweden under European arrest warrants.
They are likely to face further criminal proceedings in Belfast once the case in Sweden has been dealt with, but it is unclear at this stage if a similar case will be taken in the Republic.
Detective Sergeant Per Hjort of Stockholm City Police told the Irish Independent: "We have substantial evidence against these two persons. In Sweden, we are allowed to use telephone interception and that will be used in court as evidence.
"We also have financial transactions from Sweden to Romania that we can use as proof in court and statements from the girls who have been under the wings of this organisation."
Surveillance footage of the two suspects also forms part of the evidence.
One of the witnesses due to give evidence claimed to police that she was brought from Bucharest to a brothel near Dublin Airport. She said she was later moved to Galway and Belfast, before being trafficked onwards to Stockholm.
"She thought she was being recruited to do something else, but ended up in prostitution," the police officer said.
Prosecutors will also bring evidence relating to at least 10 women allegedly brought into Sweden against their will to work in brothels in Stockholm and Gothenburg.
Prosecutors allege that Mr Ionut led the business, travelling from Ireland to Sweden with several women and staying with them for periods in April 2012 and the spring of this year.
It is alleged that he arranged contact between the women and sex buyers, with cash earned from the prostitution then routed to Romania.
Ms Schwarz is accused of recruiting women and travelling from Ireland to Sweden with them, booking accommodation in hotels or apartments, advertising sexual services on the internet, collecting money and arranging for it to be transferred from Sweden to Romania.
Both are accused of using violence to control the women. Ms Schwarz, it is claimed, repeatedly held and pulled one woman by the hair, spoke abusively towards her, deprived her of sleep and spat at her.
A PSNI spokeswoman said detectives from its Organised Crime Branch were leading a joint investigation team through Europol with the Swedish police.
She said the investigation had led to the arrest of a number of suspects in Belfast and in Europe.
"Legal proceedings are ongoing in Sweden and investigations are continuing in Northern Ireland," added the spokeswoman.
Shane Phelan Public Affairs Editor