Three people remanded in custody on charges of human trafficking for sexual exploitation

Belfast Magistrates court
Three people have been remanded in custody after appearing before Belfast Magistrate's Court on Saturday charged with human trafficking.

Three people have been remanded in custody charged with human trafficking for sexual exploitation and brothel keeping.

Petru Samuel Balogh, 26, from Hugh Street in Belfast, Flortina Ciurar, 35, also from Hugh Street, and Ioan Mihai, 29, from Coombe Hill Park in the city, appeared before a district judge at Belfast Magistrates' Court on Saturday.

The charges follow a significant operation, which UTV joined exclusively on Thursday morning, conducted jointly between the PSNI's Modern Slavery and Human Trafficking Unit and Romanian authorities into an organised crime group.

The three, all Romanian nationals, have been charged with controlling prostitution for gain and money laundering offences.

The police operation focused on the activities of a group suspected of trafficking young Romanian women throughout Northern Ireland for the purpose of sexual exploitation.

Balogh, Ciurar and Mihai appeared together in the dock for the hearing before District Judge John Meehan.

Using an interpreter, all three confirmed they understood the charges facing them.

A police detective constable, who said she could connect them to the charges, said they were detained following a year-long policing operation.

Balogh and Ciurar made no application for bail. A bail application made by Mihai's solicitor was rejected by Judge Meehan.

All three will appear again before court next month.

Details of the case against the three accused were outlined by the detective constable during Mihai's bail application.

The court heard the investigation was triggered when a woman presented to police claiming she had fled Balogh and Ciurar.

The woman claimed she had been enticed to Northern Ireland on the promise of a job at an Amazon warehouse.

"On arrival she was told there was no such employment and she would be working as a prostitute," said the officer.

Turning to the case against Mihai, the officer told the judge that the accused took out a tenancy at a property in Newtownabbey that was used as a brothel.

The officer said when police visited this property Mihai claimed he was there as a "sex buyer".

The detective constable further told the court that the investigation has found evidence that more than £45,000 has been deposited in Mihai's account as a result of his alleged involvement in trafficking.

However, defence solicitor Ciaran Toner rejected the assertion that his client was involved in any organised crime or exploitation.

He said Mihai did not deny involvement in the sex trade but insists he was in a business arrangement with a willing prostitute.

The solicitor said the woman denies she is a victim of trafficking or that she has been coerced.

The woman also claims she gains financially from the arrangement, the court heard.

Mr Toner acknowledged that the woman has declined to make a statement to police.

"The idea this is some sort of sophisticated organised crime is not the case," said the solicitor.

The judge refused the bail application, citing a risk of interfering with witnesses, committing further offences and a risk of fleeing the jurisdiction.

Want a quick and expert briefing on the biggest news stories? Listen to our latest podcasts to find out What You Need To Know.