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'FAKE ID CARDS' Meet the mum-of-two who operated as key cog in human trafficking network

Couple hepled to facilitate human trafficking network from their three-bed home on Dublin’s northside

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Sophia Grdzelishvili passed on orders for fake papers.

Sophia Grdzelishvili passed on orders for fake papers.

Sophia Grdzelishvili passed on orders for fake papers.

Meet the mum-of-two who, alongside her estranged husband, operated as key cogs in a European-wide human trafficking network.

Sophia Grdzelishvili (46) and her former husband Vakjtang Jokhadze (48) facilitated human trafficking out of their modest three-bedroom home in Cabra on Dublin's northside.

Gardai say the couple did so by acting as a "distribution network" and providing people with false documentation so they could travel to Ireland.

Gardai calculated that Jokhadze received €136,000 from customers through money transfers, while a further €169,000 was lodged into his bank account.

Grdzelishvili, meanwhile, was said to have received approximately €114,000 in money transfers, while €69,500 was lodged into her bank account which gardai believe were entirely separate deposits.

Despite the evidence gathered against her over the course of a two-year garda probe, Grdzelishvili this week denied her role in the trafficking ring when confronted by the Sunday World.

"I am not at fault of this stuff," she insisted. Asked whether it was her former husband then who was responsible, she paused before asking: "You are from the media?" Our reporter confirmed this was the case.

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Sophia Grdzelishvili was spared a custodial sentence

Sophia Grdzelishvili was spared a custodial sentence

Sophia Grdzelishvili was spared a custodial sentence

"I don't want to comment anything," she responded.

Our reporter persisted that the evidence heard in court was that Grdzelishvili had received in the region of €200,000 as a result of her involvement in people trafficking.

"Me? No!" She exclaimed. "No money. This [is] not my house. I'm renting house. I have no comment about all of this stuff. I am not involved in all of this mess."

Despite Grdzelishvili's emphatic denials, Dublin Circuit Court found that both she and her ex-husband Jokhadze acted as a "distribution network" to provide Georgian nationals with fake driving licences and identification cards from EU countries.

Dublin Circuit Criminal Court heard they received orders for false documents which would be passed on to someone who would create them. The pair would then post the false documents to their customers in various European countries.

The court heard it was not the case that people were coerced or forced to travel to the State for "nefarious purpose" such as prostitution or forced labour, but rather that "asylum seeking" and economic migration were the causes of the illegal immigration.

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Jokhadze and Grdzelishvili, who both lived at the same address in Cabra, pleaded guilty to facilitating the trafficking of illegal immigrants within the State on respective dates between June 1, 2019 and June 26, 2019 and October 30, 2019 and December 10, 2019.

Jokhadze also pleaded guilty to money laundering, making a gain by deception and possession of false instruments at various locations in Dublin on dates between August 29, 2012 and June 26, 2019.

Grdzelishvili also pleaded guilty to possession of false instruments at her address on October 30, 2019 and December 10, 2019.

During the sentencing hearing, Detective Sergeant Anthony Collins said that in the latter part of the last decade a garda investigation commenced in relation to the illegal trafficking of people into the State, specifically focused on Georgian nationals.

Det Sgt Collins said the two accused were not the initial targets of the investigation.

He said they came to the attention of gardai as the GPO was being used by numerous organisations and Jokhadze was observed sending packages. In June 2019, the accused man attempted to post four packages in the GPO to various European countries. These packages were seized and found to contain collectively 15 false documents purporting to have been issued in several EU countries.

Det Sgt Collins explained that a criminal process had been ongoing for 12-18 months prior to the accused's arrest involving people who were seeking false documents contacting the accused via messaging applications and being quoted a price list for various documents.

The accused acted as middlemen in the process or as the "distribution network", receiving the orders and then passing them on to the person who would make the false documents.

They would then post the false documents to the customers in various locations in Europe.

Det Sgt Collins said that in general, these customers were Georgian nationals wishing to travel to Ireland in order to seek asylum, to simply live in the State or to travel to the UK.

They were provided with false documents purporting to be from Slovakia, Romania, Latvia or Lithuania, as EU documents received less scrutiny.

The documents were of high quality and would pass muster for cursory inspection, despite missing some security features.

Garnet Orange SC, prosecuting, told the court that it was the prosecution's case that all other offences were committed in order to facilitate the offences of human trafficking.

Passing sentence, Judge Martin Nolan said that for the service of facilitating illegal immigration into this country, the accused were paid "considerable" quantities of money.

Judge Nolan said the individuals using the services of the accused were not "downtrodden or vulnerable people". He said they were people from Georgia who wanted to "improve their financial lots" and "escape" a country they did not want to live in. He added that as human trafficking goes, this is not of a "sinister variety".

Judge Nolan said what they both did was "quite serious" and to facilitate illegal immigration on this scale "is a serious matter". He said a court must "engage in a balancing" act where there is a dependent child. He said this was not such a serious case that it would require the court to adopt a course of imprisonment if it would "seriously damage" an innocent child by doing so.

The judge sentenced Jokhadze to four years imprisonment, which he backdated to when the accused first went into custody in October 2019.

He sentenced Grdzelishvili to three years imprisonment but suspended the sentence in its entirety on strict conditions. Judge Nolan said if it were not for her having a teenage son, for whom she is the primary carer, she would be going to prison.

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