The Malta Independent 23 June 2024, Sunday
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Man, two women, charged with human trafficking and money laundering

Wednesday, 22 May 2024, 16:02 Last update: about 1 month ago

Three individuals: an Italian man, his Brazilian partner and her sister, have been remanded in custody after being accused of trafficking women and forcing them to work in the sex trade in Malta.

Magistrate Elaine Rizzo presided over the arraignments of 50-year-old Luca Tavolaro, an Italian citizen, his partner Jarleide Silva De Lima, 38, and her sister Michely Silva De Lima, 39, both Brazilian citizens, all of whom reside at the same address in St. Pauls Bay.

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Tavolaro and Jarleide Silva De Lima were charged with laundering the proceeds of crime, while Jarleide Silva De Lima alone was further accused of human trafficking, forcing individuals into prostitution or the production of pornography, forcing individuals into prostitution by abuse of authority or trust, using physical or moral violence to isolate the women and knowingly holding them against their will for the purposes of prostitution. She was also accused of recidivism. The two sisters are further accused of recruiting persons over the age of 21 for prostitution and living off the proceeds of prostitution.

The defendants pleaded not guilty to all of the charges against them.

Police Inspector John Spiteri told the court that the investigation had been triggered by a report of two women being exploited which had been received by the Vice Squad. The subsequent police investigation discovered that the defendants had been luring girls from Brazil to Malta with the false promise of cleaning industry jobs, only to force them into prostitution once they arrived in Malta.

The court upheld a prosecution’s request that one of the girls allegedly trafficked be allowed to testify.  At that moment, Tavolaro’s interpreter informed the court that he had just told her that he wasn’t feeling well and that the other two defendants, after hearing him say this, had just said the same thing. The court offered to call an ambulance, but the defendants then appeared to demur.

The Brazilian girl took the stand, telling the court that she had only been in Malta for four months after arriving from Belgium.

Asked what she had done during these four months, she replied:  “I worked as an escort,” going on to say that she had found the job herself on the internet.

She recognised the defendants in the dock, identifying Michely as wearing a green dress and Jarleide, a chequered shirt. Michely lived in the same apartment as her, she said, adding that Jarleide, whom she had first met at a Brazilian cultural event in Malta, would exchange her Euros to Brazilian Real.

The girl, who had travelled to Malta on a tourist visa, said that she would hand over her earnings, usually between €1000 and €1200 to Jarleide, who would then use a Brazilian money transfer system to deposit the equivalent sum in Brazilian Real into her bank account in Brazil. The last time this had happened was in April, she said.

The account in question, at Brazilian bank Caixa Econômica Federal, belonged to her, she said in reply to a question from lawyer Ilona Schembri.

The girl explained that she did not have access to the account, but she would provide her banking details to the defendants in order to deposit the money.

Asked, by defence lawyer Maria Karlsson, to specify her Maltese address, the girl replied that she had two: one in San Gwann and another in Gozo.

Prosecutor Ramon Bonett Sladden asked the witness how much she would receive of the sums transferred. “Every time I would ask her to make a deposit in my account, I would have to pay her an extra €50 for ‘transport costs.’”

Replying to questions from Inspector Spiteri, the girl said both Michely and Jarleide knew where the money had come from. “[Jarleide] knew that I worked as an escort and that all my income came from that.”

The magistrate asked the witness, who the court was told, was leaving Malta today, what country she would be travelling to. “Brazil,” the girl replied, The court instructed her to give the prosecution her contact number, email address and residential address in Brazil, before she left the courtroom.

A freezing order was issued against the defendants.

Bail was requested by the defence, the court being told that Jarlaide Silva De Lima and Tavolaro had lived in Malta for the past five years. But the prosecution objected, Inspector Spiteri arguing that it was “too early a stage for the court to ensure that potential witnesses, including clients, Tavolaro’s coworkers and others, are not intimidated.” Jarleide had previous convictions for similar offences in Italy, added the inspector, “which is why she travelled to Malta in the first place.”

Karlsson told the court that her client was the mother to a 4-month-old child, who was currently in State care. Schembri added that her client, Jarleide, also had a 7-year-old child, who was autistic.

Inspector Spiteri said he was against defendants using their children as bail tokens. One of the defendants also has a severely disabled daughter, but this had not stopped her from spending her daughters disability allowance on other things.

Furthermore, the woman had never reported to work at the job that she had been issued a work visa on the basis of.

Bail was denied, amongst other reasons due to the vulnerability of the alleged victims.

Magistrate Rizzo urged the prosecution to summons all its witnesses in as short a timeframe as possible and issued protection orders in favour of the two alleged victims.

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