No bail for three men charged with human trafficking, forcing women into prostitution

The three men were charged less than two weeks after the women received suspended sentences for engaging in prostitution

Three men have been arraigned in court after a police investigation into the trafficking and forced prositution of two South American women in Malta.

Roque Borg, 51, a hotel manager from St. Paul’s Bay, cab driver Sylvan Pace, 48 from Gharb and hotel room service attendant Jorge Emilio Herrera Mendez appeared before magistrate Astrid May Grima this afternoon, charged with several offences, less than two weeks after the two women had received suspended sentences for engaging in prostitution. 

Borg and Pace were charged with isolating and repeatedly threatening the women, as well as living off the proceeds of prosititution. Borg alone, was further charged with trafficking and  coercing them into prostitution, as well as raping one of the victims. An additional charge of possession of an unlicensed firearm was also made against him. Pace was additionally charged with knowingly assisting Borg in human trafficking. On his part, Mendez was charged with instigating the crime, defrauding one of the victims and immigration offences.

All three men pleaded not guilty to the charges.

The women in question, one from Venezuela and the other from Colombia, had received suspended sentences and a €50 fine, together with a deportation order after admitting charges against them during their arraignment.

Their case had come to the attention of the police after bystanders seeing one of the women being sick while drunk in a public place, had called for assistance. When the police drove the woman home they had realised that the apartment she lived in was being used as a brothel and made arrests.

Arranging the alleged brothel keepers on Friday, prosecuting Inspector Joseph Busuttil explained that the police had spoken to the two women on several occasions, but it was only after their sentencing that they had informed their lawyer that they had been trafficked. The lawyer had immediately alerted the police, Busuttil said.

The police had then questioned the women again, and they had explained that they had been afraid to tell the police before “because they thought Malta’s police were like their police,” the court was told.

The victims said that they would be forced to work from 9 am to 10pm every day. The two women had a mobile phone each, which would be held by Borg and Pace. They told the police that when a client would call their phone number, the men would be present to ensure all the money made would be handed to them, as well as to protect the prostitutes as necessary.

Clients would pay between €60 and €120 for their services, depending on the length of the booking, and the women would keep half the money, said the Inspector. “There was an online  ‘menu’  where clients would select the services they wanted. The accused would then inform the women which services would be required of them.”

Mendez had introduced the women to the other accused, said the inspector, adding that the women had told the police how a pistol - later recovered by the police and found to be unlicensed- would be placed on the table by one of the accused when business matters were being discussed with them.

Under cross-examination by Borg’s lawyer Franco Debono, the prosecuting inspector explained that the women had not been deported, but would remain in Malta under police protection, until they testify, as they are being treated as victims of human trafficking.

The alleged victims had not been summoned to testify today in order to avoid accusations of forum shopping, said the inspector.

Debono insisted that the women should have been summoned to testify today. 

Answering a question by Debono, the inspector confirmed that Borg had spoken to the police, but candidly added that he had “tried to wriggle out of giving any incriminating answers.”

After the arrest was declared valid, the defence requested bail. Debono also dictated a note, requesting that all civilian witnesses be brought to testify today. 

The system of objecting to bail due to witnesses yet to testify needed to be fixed, Debono said, adding that in his experience, cases which involved tourists who were due to leave soon, were allowed to testify during the arraignment.

“In order to avoid forum shopping we now have a category of people who ended up spending weeks in prison because witnesses had not testified during their arraignment,” the lawyer submitted.

Noting that an AG prosecutor was also participating in the arraignment, and that he had recommended the adoption of this practice, Debono railed against the long-standing convention of not summoning witnesses during arraignments, saying it was unjust.

Lawyer Martin Fenech, appearing for Pace and Mendez, added that bail would otherwise be decided on the basis of the version of just one party.

On the request for witnesses, Inspector Busuttil explained that summoning witnesses during arraignments was usually only done in cases where that witness would be leaving Malta imminently. “Over time, things change, and as many laws have changed. Maybe this should have changed, too,” he said.

“We are talking about victims of human trafficking. Under the victims of crime act, they must testify via video conferencing,” the inspector pointed out, offering to summon the witnesses to testify later this afternoon, should the court so require.

Debono insisted that the current practice was only protecting the interests of the victims. “But what about the accused?...I believe this system should change.”

The court, after hearing the submissions, denied the defence’s request to summon witnesses during the arraignment, saying that these witnesses should be heard by the court to which the case will be duly assigned and in order to allow the necessary arrangements to be made to allow the victims of crime to testify through video conferencing.

The defence requested bail.

Prosecutor Darlene Grima from the Office of the Attorney General, objected to the request, arguing that there was a strong risk of tampering with evidence and that the witnesses were victims of human trafficking. “The gravity of the crimes are evident even from a glance at the charges,” she added.

On Mendes, she said, there was also a strong risk of him absconding. “This person doesn’t have any documents. The only thing we could find was a screenshot [of an identification document] on his mobile. He entered Malta illegally.”

Inspector Busuttil added that besides having no address, Pace was in the midst of financial problems adding that his house and car had already been repossessed. “He was organising the whole thing and also stands charged with the rape of one of the victims,” said the inspector.

Debono submitted that his client was Maltese and had no connections abroad, with a largely clean criminal record.

“The only risk we heard of today was tampering with evidence. If the witnesses were summoned for today’s sitting, therefore, there would have been no obstacle to bail.”

It was the defence itself which requested witnesses to be heard today, stressed the lawyer.

Lawyer Martin Fenech added that the summer tourism season was approaching and Pace needed to keep his guesthouse business afloat.

The court, after hearing the accused’s bail submissions, decided against granting bail citing  the grave nature of the charges, as well as the fact that the alleged victims had not yet testified. In the case of Mendes, the court added that it did not have peace of mind that he would not attempt to abscond.

The court upheld a request for a ban on the publication of the names of the alleged victims in this case.