Two Nigerian women who ran a prostitution ring from a base in Mullingar have been found guilty of human trafficking offences in what is believed to be the first conviction of its type in Ireland.
licia Edosa (44) and Edith Enoghaghase (31) were each found guilty on two counts of trafficking women into Ireland on dates between September 2016 and June 2018 contrary to the Criminal Law (Human Trafficking) Act 2008 following a six-week jury trial at Mullingar Circuit Criminal Court.
The jury of ten men and two women found Edosa not guilty on two other counts of human trafficking.
Edosa of The Harbour, Market Point, Mullingar, Co Westmeath and Enoghaghase of Meeting House Lane, Mullingar were also each convicted of a single offence of organising prostitution as well as a series of money laundering offences.
Enoghaghase’s husband, Omonuwa Desmond Osaighbovo (30) was found not guilty of a single charge of prostitution but guilty of four money laundering offences.
All three were found not guilty of the commission of an offence for a criminal organisation contrary to the Criminal Justice Act 2006.
The accused had pleaded not guilty to a total of 63 separate offences.
The trial heard evidence from four women who claimed they were forced into prostitution in Ireland after undergoing a voodoo ceremony in their native Nigeria in what the prosecution claimed was a “tragic” case of exploitation.
The victims, who cannot be identified for legal reasons, provided dramatic evidence of long, harrowing journeys from their homeland via north Africa and southern Europe before arriving in Ireland.
Counsel for the defendants had claimed the victims in the case had made false human trafficking allegations against the accused in order to secure their rights to remain in Ireland.
They also rejected claims that they had voluntarily decided to work as prostitutes.
One witness gave evidence that she was trafficked into Ireland on a promise by Edosa of earning up to €3,500 per month by working as a shop assistant but was forced into prostitution within days of arriving in Ireland which had been described to her as “the land of milk and honey”.
The 26-year-old mother of one said she had felt betrayed by Edosa who had arranged her travel from Nigeria to Ireland via Libya and Italy.
She recounted how she had been raped in Tripoli and used a false Irish passport to get through immigration at Dublin Airport.
The trial heard that Edosa had kept €44,000 of the woman’s earnings while also threatening to kill her son and entire family back in Nigeria if she did not follow instructions.
“I was like a sex machine and money-making machine for her,” the witness remarked.
She recounted how if she collected €1,000, she was only allowed to keep €10 for herself which sometimes left her starving for days.
The woman told counsel for the DPP, Fiona Murphy SC, that she would never have left Nigeria if she knew that she would end up working as a prostitute in Ireland.
The trial heard the woman worked in various locations around the country including Limerick, Cork, Galway, Castlebar, Navan, Athlone, Letterkenny, Cavan and Dundalk.
Judge Francis Comerford remanded Edosa and Enoghaghase in custody until a sentencing hearing later this year when victim impact statements will also be heard.
The judge granted an application by Osaighbovo for bail conditions to be extended for the father of three despite an objection by gardaí who said there was a concern he would abscond from the jurisdiction before his next court appearance.
Outside the courthouse, Supt Dermot Drea, who led the investigation into human trafficking, expressed hope that the first convictions for the offence under the 2008 legislation would encourage other victims and people with information on the crime to come forward to gardaí.
“The actions of those convicted are all about making money regardless of the consequences of the victims,” said Supt Drea,
He praised the bravery and perseverance of the victims in what he described as “a lengthy and complex investigation.”
In a statement, Ruhama said: “Ruhama service users showed immense courage and resilience in recounting their challenging experiences at the hands of the defendants throughout the hearings and this evidence formed an essential part of the prosecution arguments. This case shows clearly that access to justice supports for victims of crime are a key facet of the successful prosecution of sexual exploitation cases.
“The absence of convictions under the prevailing human trafficking legislation has been a persistent criticism of the Irish state on a national and international stage for some time. This landmark conviction marks an historic step forward for the state in addressing the heinous crime that is human trafficking in Ireland.”
Minister of State for Civil and Criminal Justice, Hildegarde Naughton, also welcomed the convictions handed down in Mullingar Circuit Criminal Court for involvement in Human Trafficking, the first convictions of this type in Ireland.
“Human trafficking is a particularly cruel crime, based on deception and exploitation of vulnerable people, and it is hidden. Due to its hidden nature, it is very difficult to detect and investigate and I would like to commend the members of An Garda Síochána for their hard work in investigating and obtaining the evidence necessary to secure convictions in this complex case.
“Ireland is committed to playing a strong role, both nationally and internationally in the fight against human trafficking. The verdicts handed down today are a welcome indication that our efforts are paying off.”
She said that the Government recently approved plans for a revised National Referral Mechanism (NRM) to make it easier for victims of human trafficking to come forward and be supported. Minister Naughton also received approval to draft a general scheme of a Bill to put the new NRM on a statutory footing.
The NRM provides a way for all agencies, both State and civil society, to co-operate, share information about potential victims, identify those victims and facilitate their access to advice, accommodation and support.