Image of Winchester Crown Court, where the trial took place. Image of Winchester Crown Court, where the trial took place.

Criminal Gang found Guilty of Trafficking women from Romania to Swindon brothels

Three people have been found guilty of Modern Slavery and Human Trafficking offences after trafficking female victims from Romania to Swindon and putting them to work in brothels. Their victims were forced into sex work in the Swindon area, and the proceeds from the crime were laundered to finance the gang’s activities. After a 10-week jury trial at Winchester Crown Court:

  • Gigi Ciobanica, 46, of Grasmere Road, Birmingham, was found guilty of conspiracy to engage in human trafficking and money laundering.
  • Priyantha Yakdehige, 54, of Vasterne Close, Purton, was found guilty of conspiracy to engage in human trafficking, and pleaded guilty to money laundering.
  • Cristina Olaru, 31, of Commercial Road, Swindon, was found guilty of controlling prostitution for gain and money laundering.

The defendants are due to be sentenced on 2 February. Ciobanica was remanded into custody.

The verdict comes following a Wiltshire Police investigation dating back to 2015, which focused on an organised criminal gang (OCG) trafficking young women from Romania to the UK. The group operated on a model whereby addresses where the women worked were owned and provided by local man Priyantha Yakdehige. The addresses were then rented by the leaders of the Romanian gang, Gigi Ciobanica and Cristina Olaru, who controlled the workers at the addresses, taking a cut of the money earned.

An investigation was launched by the Force’s Serious and Organised Crime Unit (SOCU) which sought to dismantle and bring to justice those responsible for the trafficking and exploitation of the young women. Working closely with partner agencies, an understanding of how the group operated was formed and culminated in a number of arrests and charges following investigation. Supported by the National Crime Agency, whose involvement assisted with the arrest and extradition of suspects from overseas, the eventual result has seen those at the top of the network brought to justice.

DS Richard Nelsen from SOCU said: “Modern Slavery is within our communities and is not something any of us can be complacent about in challenging. This group in particular worked in the Swindon area, but we know that girls were collected from Luton Airport and transported on ferries from France to the United Kingdom where they were put to work."

“The conditions they worked in were poor and they often worked effectively 24/7 with customers being booked throughout the day and night. The exploited women were not in control of when they worked and those at the top took a heavy slice of any profit which was made."

“Working closely with the Crown Prosecution Service, we built a case against those who were facilitating and profiting from this activity, culminating in the trial at Winchester over the last ten weeks. The group operated on a model where the ‘landlord’, Priyantha Yakdehige, would arrange and pay for flights, and then arrange accommodation for members of the OCG to live and work in. His role made the wider criminal enterprise possible and for this reason he was integral to its operation. He profited from the criminal proceeds obtained from the prostitution, knowing how the money had been made."

“Gigi Ciobanica was the Romanian ‘boss’ who led the OCG and controlled the network of sex workers. He ensured the transportation, housing and activity of the exploited females was managed to ensure he profited directly and substantially. He would funnel the money back to Romania to construct property in his name, whilst evading taxation and stealing from those he exploited."

"Cristina Olaru was, at the time of the investigation, the partner of Ciobanica. She controlled the listings for the sex workers and managed their finances, ensuring she and Ciobanica took a profit and arranged where they were located in houses provided by Yakdehige.

“This group has been dismantled within Swindon and the sentencing will send a further message to those who wish to engage in this criminality.

“The police cannot tackle this problem on our own and I would encourage members of our community to report any concerns or suspicions they have of such activity to their local Neighbourhood Teams or via 101 unless an emergency. A special thank you must go to the prosecution team who helped get to this result yesterday. The lead investigating officer DC Alex Curtis worked tirelessly in bringing this case before the court. His enthusiasm and desire to stop this group operating was impressive throughout, and he was ably supported by DC James Pugh whose patience and knowledge were key in securing the convictions.”