Three men were denied bail on Friday after pleading not guilty to trafficking two South American women who spilled the beans after being found guilty of prostitution and were set to be deported. 

Roque Borg, a 51-year-old hotel manager from St Paul’s Bay, Sylvan Pace, a 48-year-old cab driver from Għarb and Columbian hotel room attendant 33-year-old Jorge Emilio Herrera Mendez, were arrested a couple of weeks after their two alleged victims faced deportation for overstaying in Malta. 

Immigration officers flagged the women’s plight to the police vice squad and further investigations revealed that the women, a Columbian and a Venezuelan, were working locally as prostitutes. 

The women were arraigned in court and were handed a suspended sentence upon admission.

The court also ordered their deportation.

However, matters took a different twist when the prosecuting officer was approached by the women’s lawyer after the arraignment and was informed that his clients were claiming to be victims of human traffickers.

Inspector Joseph Busuttil spoke to the women who recounted their alleged ordeal after being introduced to Borg and Pace by Herrera Mendez.

The men allegedly forced them into prostitution, offering sexual services and charging different rates according to the duration of the services with a fee of €120 per hour.

Clients selected the services from an online “menu” and the accused would pass on information about the bookings to the women who would subsequently pocket half of their earnings.

The women worked daily from 9am to 10pm, while their phones were allegedly kept by Borg and Pace who monitored bookings.

The alleged victims explained further that they were scared of the men, especially since Borg would place a firearm on the table whenever sitting down to discuss business matters with the women. 

A pistol was later confiscated by the police.

All three suspects were arrested and arraigned on Friday.

Borg and Pace were charged with repeatedly, through violence, forcing their alleged victims into prostitution, living off their earnings and causing them to fear violence. 

Borg was separately charged with trafficking for prostitution purposes, repeatedly raping one of the women as well as unlicensed possession of the firearm.

The other two men were charged with complicity in human trafficking, while Herrera Mendez was separately charged with defrauding one of the victims and breaching immigration laws. 

All pleaded not guilty. 

A request for bail was strongly objected to in view of the nature of the charges and the fear of tampering with evidence since the victims were still to testify. 

Defence lawyer Franco Debono stressed that the prosecution could not cite fear of tampering once the witnesses were not brought to testify at the arraignment. 

Inspector Busuttil said that the women were to remain in Malta under police protection as victims of human trafficking, pending their testimony in the proceedings. 

However, the lawyer countered that the current system needed to be changed so that civilian witnesses are brought to testify at the arraignment.

That manner of procedure was only adopted when the alleged victims were tourists who were due to leave Malta and who were thus summoned to testify during the arraignment.

Debono insisted that the current system was “unjust” since it safeguarded the interests of the alleged victims, while the accused ended up spending days under preventive arrest until civilian witnesses have testified. 

After hearing submissions by both parties the court, presided over by magistrate Astrid May Grima, turned down the request for bail in view of the gravity of the charges and the fact that the alleged victims were still to testify.

As for Herrera Mendez, who was illegally residing in Malta, the court held that he did not offer the necessary guarantee against the risk of absconding. 

The court ordered a ban on the alleged victims’ names.

Lawyers Franco Debono and Marion Camilleri were counsel to Borg.  Lawyer Martin Fenech was counsel to Pace and Herrera Mendez. 

The prosecution was assisted by AG lawyers Darlene Grima and Ramon Bonett Sladden. 

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