The trial of a Letterkenny resident charged with trafficking a Romanian man for exploitation to work in a car wash in Sligo town has heard that the man was just getting €4 a day to buy food.
Sorin Cirpaci of Fortwell Court, Letterkenny and Augustin Covaci of Cartron, Sligo both deny the charge of coercing the man into working at the car wash on Pearse Road on a date unknown between 28 May 2015 and 9 September 2015.
It is alleged that the accused men, who are brothers-in-law, retained the man’s passport and deceived him regarding payment by failing to pay him as agreed or not at all.
Retired Detective Garda Michael Carr told Sligo Circuit Court that he organised a search of the car wash premises after receiving information that there was a victim of human trafficking there.
He brought the National Employment Rights Authority on board and when they visited the site, they found five men working there.
Mr Carr said the alleged victim told him that Mr Covaci had his passport and he was not happy with the situation there.
He said it emerged the man had reversed a car into an Audi which was there for valeting and after that his passport was taken from him and he was only given €4 a day.
When he left the premises with gardaí, Mr Carr said the man had a small bag with a loaf of bread and a tin of beans in it, and said he was only getting €4 every evening to feed himself with.
Speaking through an interpreter, the alleged victim said he came to Ireland in May 2015 to make a better life for his family.
He believed he was going to be paid €500 monthly but never saw that money, he only got a small amount and sent it home.
The alleged victim said he had worked previously in a car wash in England and at other jobs in Romania.
However Colm Smyth, counsel for Mr Cirpaci, disputed his claims and said that according to records obtained by gardaí, he had been serving lengthy prison terms for serious offences when he claimed to be working in Romania.
The man confirmed he had served sentences but asked about the dates concerned, he said he did not have a good memory.
The alleged victim said he was told he had to work for free for four months to pay for the damage he had caused to a car he had “bumped” and that his passport was taken from him.
Mr Smyth put it to him that he was free to leave Mr Sorin’s employment and go back to Romania prior to the damage being done to the car, but the man said that he did not have the financial capacity to leave.
The case is the first prosecution under updated human trafficking legislation which increases the maximum penalty on conviction from 14 years to life imprisonment.