TWO Romanians have been jailed for four years each for their role in an international criminal network trafficking women from Eastern Europe into Ireland and Sweden.
Gang leader Ilie Ionut (31) and a female associate, Ancuta Schwarz (28), were both found guilty of human trafficking for sexual purposes and aggravated procuring – the legal term for pimping – at a court in Stockholm.
The verdict followed a trial which heard evidence that women were trafficked first to Ireland, where they were forced to work in brothels around the country, before then being moved on to Sweden.
Ionut was also found guilty of a further charge of attempting to intimidate a witness by getting a message to her while he was in custody.
The conviction comes as a result of a major international investigation involving the PSNI and police forces in Sweden and Romania.
Ionut and Schwarz were alleged to have been involved in trafficking and prostitution on both sides of the Irish Border.
The court heard evidence Ionut ran the business while living in Galway and later Belfast, while Schwarz organised hotels and apartments where prostitution took place. She also ensured these activities were advertised on the internet.
Both were accused of funnelling large sums of money from the enterprise back to Romanian bank accounts.
Under Swedish law, they will only have to serve two-thirds of their sentence provided they are of good behaviour.
However, they are both expected to face extradition to the North, where further charges await them, once they have completed their sentences.
One of the officers involved in the investigation, Detective Sergeant Per Hjort of Stockholm City Police, told the Irish Independent: "We are very happy with the result. We had quite a solid case."
He added: "It is now likely they will also face charges in Northern Ireland."
An observer from the PSNI was in court yesterday. There was no official garda involvement in the probe.
During the trial, one woman gave evidence she was trafficked from Bucharest to work in a brothel in Dublin before later being moved to Galway, Belfast and Stockholm.
The woman believed she was being brought to Ireland for legitimate work.
The court heard Ionut threatened this woman while in custody, getting a message sent to her that he would "take care" of her when he got out.
Lawyers acting for Schwarz indicated that she was likely to appeal the verdict.
Schwarz has been in custody since April, when she was arrested in Belfast, while Ionut was arrested the following month in Bucharest.
Both were extradited to Sweden.