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(NEWSDAY) — Special arrangements were made at two prisons last night to accept a couple, who at 6.45 pm, left the Port of Spain Magistrates’ court after facing 43 charges stemming from what police have dubbed the “sex ring case.”
The couple, according to police, are Solieht Torres, 23, of Venezuela and her Chinese-born, Guyanese raised boyfriend Jinfu Zhu, appeared before magistrate Marissa Gomez. Zhu, who speaks Mandarin, had the charges translated to him by Carol Williams, while Torres relied on Joanna Boca, to translate what was said to Spanish.
Zhu was taken to the Port of Spain Prison while Torres was taken to the Women’s Prison at Golden Grove, Arouca. The charges all stem from a two-day long police raid on February 5 and 6, in connection with the discovery of 19 Venezuelans – three teenage girls and 16 women, between the ages of 15 and 19. The Venezuelans were rescued from several locations including a house at 61, Western Circle, Westmoorings.
This house is owned by Edward Aboud and was leased to Zhu for over $20,000 monthly, police said. Senior police sources said they are still searching for a man believed to be in Suriname in relation to the alleged prostitution ring as he is believed to be the mastermind.
Of the 43 charges, 42 fall under the Sexual Offences Act while the other is under the Proceeds of Crime Act. The non-sexual charge is that the couple on February 5, had in their possession, TT$80,000, US$2,393, $20,000 (Bolivars), $20,000(Jamaican), $595 (Surinamese), $100 (Barbadian), $40 (Eastern Caribbean) and one Yen dollar, knowing the money to be proceeds from criminal activities.
Police on two previous occasions failed to get an order from Chief Magistrate Maria Busby Earle-Caddle to confiscate the money after the Chief Magistrate said they applied to do so well outside the stipulated 96-hour period. Officers of the Financial Intelligence Branch (FIB) instead had to seize the money as part of their evidence which means if the couple is found not guilty, the money must be returned to them.
If the cash was confiscated then even with a not-guilty verdict, the money would still be considered proceeds of crime and remained State property. The couple faced 22 joint charges and Torres was slapped with an additional 20 charges.
The couple was charged for running a brothel at Zhu’s Westmoorings home on specific dates between September 17, 2018 to January 1. Torres’ charges are that she aided and abetted prostitution on specific dates between September 17, 2018 to February, 2.
The charges were all laid indictably and they were not called on to plead. Before the charges were read, Zhu, wrapped in a sheet after complaining of feeling cold, questioned why his attorney, Subhas Panday, was not in court.
Calls were made and Panday, who was in Princess Town, arrived just as the matter was about to end, some two hours later. Zhu was comforted that the absence of his attorney would not have been prejudicial to him and allowed the case to continue without Panday.
In his application for bail to be denied, court prosecutor Insp Rajesh Lal, told Gomez that the couple’s legal status in the country was questionable. He added that their Interpol tracing was outstanding and given that they are both foreigners, they both posed a flight risk. He drove home his point by highlighting that the 43 charges are all serious offences. The couple’s passport, he said, is with the Immigration Department.
Gomez agreed with the submission, which at the time was made in Panday’s absence, and was not contested when he appeared. She remanded the couple and ordered that they return on March 28 at 10:30 am. The couple was charged by Cpl Kurt Hope of the FIB.