Three deny trafficking and slavery charges

Cristina Covaci leaving Craigavon Court.
Cristina Covaci leaving Craigavon Court.
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Three Romanians, including a husband and wife, denied 10 charges arising from an alleged human trafficking and slave labour plot.

Although the trio, 33-year-old Ioan Lacatus, Samuil Covaci (24) and his 30-year-old wife Cristina Covaci were arraigned at Craigavon Crown Court on Tuesday, Judge Patrick Lynch QC warned that given the recent strike causing a backlog of cases to be heard, their trial “won’t be before September”.

Lacatus, from South Avenue in Bangor, faces four charges, one alleging he acted as an unlicensed gangmaster and three that he “trafficked’ people into the UK for exploitation.

He is jointly charged with Samuil Covaci, from Charles Street in Portadown, with conspiring to traffick “migrant workers” within the UK “intending to exploit the said workers or believing that another person would exploit them and to counts of trafficking people into the UK by “arranging or facilitating the arrival” of people into the UK, knowing or believing they would be exploited.

Cristina Covaci, Hanover Street, Portadown, is jointly charged with Lacatus of converting criminal property, namely “the wages of migrant workers by having them lodged into bank accounts held in your name” and alone, she is charged with entering into an arrangement to acquire criminal property with all of the offences alleged to have occurred on various dates between 14 April and 11 October 2014.

Previous courts have heard how the charges arose after 20 people living in squalid conditions in the same house as Samui Covaci were “rescued from slavery” and “financial bondage” by police.

While the “slaves” were forced to share a toilet and wash their clothes with shampoo, Covaci was the “alpha male” and there have been claims that £30,000 was lodged and withdrawn from the bank accounts of the trio.

Judge Lynch ordered that Samuil Covaci’s driving licence could be returned to him having heard that, like his alleged victims, there was a job opportunity in a local food factory. The case is listed for review in June.