Men charged with aiding human trafficking gang operating in Donegal

April 16, 2024

Two men have been charged with aiding an international crime gang in human trafficking in Donegal.

One of the men, Georgijs Poniza, dared detectives in Ballyshannon, ‘how you going to prove that?’ when he was charged.

Poniza, a 35-year-old, and 28-year-old Armen Pogosyan, both with an address at Assaroe Falls, Ballyshannon, were brought before Judge Ciaran Liddy at Ballyshannon District Court on Tuesday afternoon.

The duo were brought to court from Castlerea Prison, and have each been hit with 16 new charges, including participation in organised crime.

The pair, lifted by cops after a complex probe into labour exploitation in Donegal, have also been charged with transferring over €338,400 in wages of the alleged victims to bank accounts in Latvia.

Poniza, a 35-year-old, and 28-year-old Pogosyan, both with an address at Assaroe Falls, Ballyshannon, were brought before Judge Ciaran Liddy at Ballyshannon District Court on Tuesday.

Poniza and Pogosyan are charged that, between December 4, 2020 and October 24, 2023, they participated in the activity of a criminal organisation.

The charge, contrary to Section 72 of the Criminal Justice Act, 2006, is that they, for the purpose of enhancing the ability of the criminal organisation to commit a serious offence, human trafficking, for the purpose of labour exploitation within the State, did knowingly by an act, traffic persons other than a child, participate to an activity of that organisation.

Poniza and Pogosyan have been charged with two counts of trafficking a person for the purpose of exploiting those persons. These charges, which relate to two victims, are contrary to Section 4 (1) (a) (b) and (c) and 4 (7) of the Criminal Law (Human Trafficking) Act, 2008

They are charged with handling, possessing and using property that was the proceeds of criminal conduct, namely €202,621, the source of which was the wages of employees including the victims.

The pair face a similar charge relating to an amount of €135,781.82 that represented the wages of employees including the victims while knowing that the property was the proceeds of criminal conduct.

They were further slapped with a money laundering charge over €14,486.57 in a Bank of Ireland bank account.

The man are each charged with money laundering in relation to the transfer of €8,320 to a Swedbank account in Latvia and the transfer of €2,410 to another Swedbank account in Latvia.

They also face eight charges relating to making a false instrument, an Electric Ireland utility bill, and using the bill, as well as opening diesel card and credit card accounts in the name of others with the intention of making a gain for themselves.

Detective Garda Paddy Kelly gave evidence of charging Poniza at 1.50pm on April 16, 2024.

To one of the charges, Poniza replied: “Not guilty. How you going to prove that?”

After another of the charges was put to him, Poniza asked detectives: “From which country did this person fly?”

Father-of-four Poniza made no reply to the other charges.

Poniza’s wife was present in court. At one stage during the proceedings, the accused man blew a kiss in the direction of the woman.

Barrister for Poniza, Mr Martin Durack BL, instructed by Ciaran O’Brien solicitors, said his client has been in custody since October and asked the court to make a direction on the service of a book of evidence.

Inspector Seamus McGonigle said this was a ‘particularly complex’ case. Detective Garda Kelly told the court that DPP directions in the case were only received on April 3, 2024.

The DPP has directed that all charges against both of the accused be dealt with by trial on indictment at the Circuit Court.

“It is a very time consuming investigation with a large amount of data,” Detective Garda Kelly said, adding that the investigation, which has been running for 21 months, is still “ongoing”.

Judge Liddy told gardai that “progress is going to have to be made”.

“I do appreciate that it is a complex, vast investigation,” Judge Liddy said.

Detective Garda Mark Deavin gave evidence of charging Pogosyan at 2.30pm on April 16, 2024. To each of the 16 charges, Pogosyan replied: “No comment.”

A Russian interpreter was present in court to assist Pogosyan, who the court previously heard is an Armenian national with an Uzbekistan passport.

Barrister for Pogosyan, Mr Patrick O’Sullivan BL, instructed by solicitor Mr Morgan Coleman, said his client has the presumption of innocence. Mr O’Sullivan said he was anxious that a book of evidence be served on Pogosyan ‘sooner rather than later’.

The two men were first arrested last October and detained for questioning at Ballyshannon Garda Station.

Detectives, accompanied by international colleagues, swooped on the pair after a large-scale investigation into the alleged trafficking of persons into Ireland for the purpose of labour exploitation.

Europol officers were in Donegal during an international Law Enforcement Operation, which involved a Joint Investigation Team that was established in conjunction with Law Enforcement in Latvia.

An Garda Síochána’s Human Trafficking Investigation and Coordination Unit (HTICU) at GNPSB, the Garda National Cyber Crime Bureau (GNCCB), Garda Mutual Assistance Section and the Garda Síochána Analysis Service (GSAS) are all involved in the probe.

Initially, each man was charged with four counts of human trafficking and one count of money laundering. Poniza was charged with being in possession of €51,100 which was the proceeds of criminal conduct and Pogosyan faced a similar charge in respect of €14,060.

Each of the men has surrendered his passport.

They have been remanded in custody with consent to bail.

Previously, bail bonds of €10,000 and independent sureties of €20,000 were placed on the accused men.

Poniza’s barrister, Mr Durack, told the court that the bail bond placed is “outside the limit of my client”.

Judge Liddy adjourned the matter to the April 22 sitting of Donegal District Court.