Brothel keepers get light sentence for trafficking women
TWO leading members of an international vice gang smirked and smiled with relief after getting just two years for trafficking women to work in Irish brothels.
Ilie Ionut (34) and Ancuta Schwarz (30), were extradited to Belfast earlier this year after police there launched an investigation into the operation in 2013.
But a victim of the callous gang is “shocked” and “upset” at the leniency of the two-year jail sentence they each got, according to her partner.
‘Anna’ sparked the investigation when she escaped from one of their Belfast brothels after also being forced to work a prostitute in Galway and Dublin.
Her partner told the Sunday World this week: “It’s just not fair. We’re utterly shocked at the leniency of the sentence.”
Anna had previously told her story of being abducted by the gang and forced to work in brothels while threats were made to her mother at home in Romania.
At one point she was kept in an apartment in Galway that was used as a brothel, in the same city from where Ionut and Schwarz ran their lucrative operation at one point.
“We are hoping now the PSNI will pass on their file to the Gardaí who will investigate. Eighty per cent of the crimes were committed in the Republic,” added Anna’s partner.
He admitted they were “pretty disappointed” by the sentences handed down to the Romanian pair.
“There was absolutely no remorse. In court they came across as very brazen, very cocky,” he said.
“The business was still being run while they were inside. They got the absolute minimum – they appeared to be delighted in court,” he fumed.
There are also plans to formally request the Attorney General to appeal against the leniency of the sentence.
The PSNI carried out a massive investigation based on what Anna told them after her escape in 2011.
As detectives prepared to close in, Ionut and Schwarz moved to Stockholm, where they continued their vice operation.
Swedish officers were able to move quickly using the country’s strict anti-trafficking and prostitution laws to build a case and both were jailed for four years.
They made over €100,000 in 100 days from one trafficked woman according to investigators in Sweden.
Ancuta Schwarz and Ilie Ionut
They served just over two years and were extradited earlier this year from Sweden to face trial in Northern Ireland.
The pair pleaded guilty to the charges of controlling prostitution and people trafficking between February 2011 and April 2013. Schwarz admitted to a charge of illegally sending stg£4,178 to another woman in Romania via Western Union.
The pair will serve eight months of their sentences in prison, with the remainder of the term spent on supervised licence.
During this week’s sentence hearing, it emerged that both Ionut and Schwarz have already served time in a Swedish prison on the same set of offences involving the same victim.
When police swooped in Belfast, one of the 13 women rescued agreed to give evidence in the case against the pair
During the court proceedings held in Sweden, she told how she thought she was being brought to Ireland for legitimate work, but was in fact forced to work in brothels on both sides of the Irish border before being moved to Sweden.
In Belfast this week the trial judge said that the victim would have been subjected to “humiliating and degrading behaviour”.
“This is a case of organised crime which involved human trafficking – something which quite clearly is capable of causing potential physical and psychological injuries to victims at a high level,” he said.
The judge, however, accepted that in this case there was no evidence to suggest the woman was the victim of any serious violence.
Detective Chief Inspector Douglas Grant explained in a statement after the hearing that Operation Burgrave was a joint operation with Swedish police.
“This operation has been made possible through a Joint Investigation Team agreement between the U.K. and Sweden. Eurojust, the EU agency set up to promote co-ordination between member states in relation to serious and organised crime, partly funded the operation,” he said.
“The operation was assisted and supported by Europol. PSNI and Swedish police liaised with law enforcement authorities in Romania.
Anna, whose initial statement spurred the police into action, previously told of her horrific ordeal at the hands of the same trafficking gang.
Moving between brothels and hotels in Galway, Belfast, Cork and Dublin, she was deprived of sleep, barely given enough to eat and left with almost no clothes to wear.
“Sometimes my bed was a chair and I would sleep naked, sitting up,” she told the Sunday World.
Because she resisted the pimps, she was regularly hit in the back of the head and neck, which has caused damage to her eyesight.
She was also kicked in the lower back and cut with a knife in a bid to keep her in line.
Eventually, in a fit of temper a female pimp smashed her teeth, which has left her in ongoing pain.
She explained how the pimps used her for clients who wanted ‘forced sex’ and some even paid just to watch her being beaten and humiliated.
She described how up to 10 women would be accompanied by as many as six pimps when being moved between premises.
“I was like the pimp’s bag. They would take us like luggage wherever they go,” she said.
She declined, however, to give evidence in court over fears her mother in Romania could be the target of violence in a revenge attack.