Controversial influencer Andrew Tate and his brother Tristan will remain in custody in Romania for a fourth consecutive month, a court has ruled.
The brothers have been detained since December and are being investigated on allegations of rape, people trafficking and forming an organised crime group. Both have denied wrongdoing.
Mr Tate’s lawyers say he will be held until the end of April.
British investigators are also helping Romanian police with information from the UK side, the BBC has learned.
The brothers’ lawyers said that prosecutors had brought no new evidence to Wednesday’s hearing.
They also suggested their clients’ notoriety was contributing to the decision to keep them in custody.
Mateea Petrescu, spokeswoman for the Tates, said that – for the first time – the judge had asked the brothers to respond directly to prosecution arguments that they were a flight risk and a risk to public order.
Despite what was described as a “dynamic exchange”, the judge eventually ruled the two men should be kept in preventative custody for another 30 days, until the end of April.
Ms Petrescu said the team was “speechless” at the court’s decision.
She said the continued detention had “irreparably harmed” the brothers’ image and that it would “take years to rebuild their reputation”.
A lawyer acting for the Tates in the US recently contacted one of the alleged victims in the case, threatening to sue her and her family for $300m (£244m) for defamation unless she retracted her claims.
Judges have consistently justified their decision to keep them in custody, on grounds that they might pressure witnesses or interfere with evidence.
At previous hearings, investigators have reportedly presented evidence from phone calls recorded during the brothers’ detention.
Under Romanian law, suspects can be kept in detention for up to six months without trial, with the agreement of the courts.
Another lawyer, Eugen Vidineac, told the BBC: “In all the volumes of the file, you never find one piece of paper with pornographic content to sustain the theory that [the women] were obliged to post pornographic content”.
But leaked court documents, seen by the BBC last month, outlined testimony from alleged victims claiming to be forced to earn €10,000 (£8,800) a month on social media platforms, under the alleged threat of physical violence.
Court papers also described debts being used as “a form of psychological coercion”.
Since investigations began here last April, six women have been identified by prosecutors as victims.
Four of them are believed to have given testimony against the Tates.
Two others have said they do not consider themselves as victims, but are reportedly still being treated as such by investigators, on the grounds some victims retain a strong emotional bond to their traffickers.
One expert in human trafficking law said, in any future trial, it is crucial prosecutors present hard evidence rather than rely solely on victim testimony.
Romanian-American University’s Silvia Tabusca told the BBC: “What’s different [in the Tate investigation] is the way the prosecutor has started to build the case.”
“Usually, most of the cases in Romania are built on the testimony of the victim, but in this case, I see that a lot is based on other types of evidence, mainly wire-tapping and information from their computers and programmes.”
She says there is a legal overlap in Romania between human trafficking – which implies force or coercion; and pimping – which implies a victim’s consent.
“There is huge public pressure on victims,” she said.
“We’ve learned that after two or three years, victims are not willing to cooperate with the court. So if the trial is built mainly on the testimony of the victim, the [defence] lawyers can easily change the charge from human trafficking to pimping.”
There are also legal loopholes around online exploitation – something the European Union is currently trying to tighten.
“The means and tools that traffickers use have changed,” said Malin Björk, the European Parliament’s rapporteur on the issue.
She’s heading discussions on a new EU directive which “makes clear that crimes conducted online are just as criminal as those off-line”.
It is expected to be voted on by the European Parliament this summer.
Investigators in Romania have now begun looking into financial records, with a new focus on possible money-laundering.
‘Very complicated cases’
Daniel Ticau, a former prosecutor with the organised crime unit leading the Tate investigation, said this case could shine a spotlight on Romania’s capacity to carry out these kinds of probes.
“From my point of view, there is a serious lack of political will to develop this capacity to properly handle the parallel financial investigations in organised crime, and in particular in human trafficking, drug trafficking and other serious crimes,” he said.
Ms Tabusca added that Romania faces a striking lack of resources more generally.
“At present, there are more than 800 ongoing cases of human trafficking, many of them international cases and very complicated cases,” she explained.
“For these 800 cases, we have seven prosecutors and 48 police officers.”
As well as investigating ongoing cases of alleged human trafficking, she said, they also have to constantly monitor the phenomenon among a population of more than 20 million people.
It can take months or years to put together an indictment in a human trafficking case.
With three months left before Andrew and Tristan Tate must be either released from custody or brought to trial, the spotlight is on Romania to show it can handle the pressure.
Source : BBC