Trafficking accused a ‘victim of vice racket’

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A woman accused of trafficking and controlling a prostitute working in Northern Ireland was herself a victim of the vice racket, the High Court heard on Monday.

Elena Cazacu, 29, claims she agreed to become involved in the sex trade to pay off her debt to two brothers in charge.

The Romanian national, of no fixed abode, was granted bail on conditions including a ban on accessing the internet.

She faces charges of human trafficking and controlling prostitution for gain, along with concealing, converting and transferring criminal property.

Although the alleged offences were committed between January and March 2017, Cazacu was only arrested in Newry earlier this month.

Prosecution counsel Conor Maguire claimed she had previously left Northern Ireland before two brothers running the operation were detained.

They are awaiting sentencing after pleading guilty to similar offences.

Mr Maguire said Cazacu had been seen driving a prostitute around Northern Ireland and transferring money back to her family in Romania.

During interviews she claimed to have been “debt bonded” to one of the brothers, agreed to prostitute herself and take the other woman to meets with sex buyers.

She insisted that her only earnings came from her own clients, and that after paying off the debt she managed to send £2,000 to her relatives.

Defence barrister Conor O’Kane argued that the woman Cazacu is accused of trafficking is her own cousin and the partner of one of the brothers.

He told the court his client owed £2,300, a sum she managed to pay off after a spell of taking a few jobs a week.

“She was acting as a prostitute for £150 a time,” Mr O’Kane added.

Confirming that Cazacu can stay at a women’s refuge, he insisted: “They accept my client is also a victim.”

With police said to be investigating the defendant’s claims, Mr Justice Burgess ruled she can be released on bail to an approved address.

The judge pointed out: “Having left the jurisdiction she did come back of her own free will, no doubt in the real possibility she was aware of the proceedings against the two brothers.”