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Human trafficking sentencing

By Brion Hoban

Two Georgian nationals who facilitated human trafficking by providing people with false documentation in order to travel to the state have been sentenced.

Vakjtang Jokhadze (48) and Sophia Grdzelishili (46), who are legally divorced but reside together, acted as a “distribution network” to provide Georgian nationals with fake driving licences and identification cards from EU countries.

Dublin Circuit Criminal Court heard that they received orders for false documents which would be passed on to someone who would create them.

The accused would then post the false documents to their customers in various European countries.

The court heard that it was not the case that people were coerced or forced to travel to the state for “nefarious purpose” such as prostitution or forced labour, but rather that “asylum seeking” and economic migration were the causes of the illegal immigration.

Jokhadze and Grdzelishili, both with an address at St Jarlaths Road, Cabra, Dublin, pleaded guilty to facilitating the trafficking of illegal immigrants within the state on respective dates between June 1, 2019 and June 26, 2019, and October 30, 2019 and December 10, 2019.

Jokhadze also pleaded guilty to money laundering, making a gain by deception and possession of false instruments at various locations in Dublin on dates between August 29, 2012 and June 26, 2019.

Gredzelishili also pleaded guilty to possession of false instruments at her address on October 30, 2019 and December 10, 2019.

Garnet Orange SC, prosecuting, told the court that it was the prosecution’s case that all other offences were committed in order to facilitate the offences of human trafficking.

Passing sentence on Friday, Judge Martin Nolan said that for the service of facilitating illegal immigration into this country, the accused were paid “considerable” quantities of money.

Judge Nolan said the individuals using the services of the accused were not “downtrodden or vulnerable people”.

He said they were people from Georgia who wanted to “improve their financial lots” and “escape” a country they did not want to live in.

He said that as human trafficking goes, this is not of a “sinister variety”.

Judge Nolan said what they both did was “quite serious” and to facilitate illegal immigration on this scale “is a serious matter”.

He said a court must “engage in a balancing” act where there is a dependent child. He said this was not such a serious case that it would require the court to adopt a course of imprisonment if it to “seriously damage” an innocent child by doing so.

Judge Nolan sentenced Jokhadze to four years imprisonment, which he backdated to when the accused first went into custody in October 2019.

He sentenced Grdzelishili to three years imprisonment, but suspended the sentence in its entirety on strict conditions.

Judge Nolan said that but for Grdzelishili having a teenage son for whom she is the primary carer, she would be going to prison as he thought she deserved a custodial sentence.

During the sentencing hearing, Detective Sergeant Anthony Collins told Mr Orange that in the latter part of the last decade, a garda investigation commenced in relation to the illegal trafficking of people into the state, specifically focused on Georgian nationals.

Det Sgt Collins said the two accused were not the initial targets of the investigation. He said they came to the attention of gardaí as the GPO was being used by numerous organisations gardaí had an interest in and Jokhadze was observed sending packages.

In June 2019, the accused man attempted to post four packages in the GPO to various European countries. These packages were seized and found to contain collectively 15 false documents purporting to have been issued in several EU countries.

Det Sgt Collins explained that a criminal process that had been ongoing for 12 to 18 months prior to the accused’s arrest involved people who were seeking false documents contacting the accused via messaging applications and being quoted a price list for various documents.

The accused acted as middle men in the process or as the “distribution network”, receiving the orders and then passing them on to the person who would make the false documents. The accused would then post the false documents to the customers in various locations in Europe.

Det Sgt Collins said that in general, these customers were Georgian nationals wishing to travel to Ireland in order to seek asylum, to simply live in the state or to travel to the UK.

They were provided with false documents purporting to be from Slovakia, Romania, Latvia or Lithuania, as EU documents received less scrutiny. The documents were of high quality and would pass muster for cursory inspection despite missing some security features.

During the sentencing hearing, Det Sgt Collins said Jokhadze had initially come to the state legally, only for a deportation order to be made an executed in 2010. He then returned to the state in 2011 under a false name and used various false documents to live under various false identities.

Grdzelishili came to the state legally and gave birth to a son while living in direct provision. The court heard she is now the subject of a deportation order, despite being the sole carer of her now 14-year-old son.

The family home in Cabra was searched on two occasions in October and December 2019. On both occasions, gardaí discovered numerous false documents including fake driver licences and fake identification cards.

Jokhadze was utilising at least five false identities, while Grdzelishili was utilising two. Both used these false identities to collect funds generated by their illegal enterprise.

Jokhadze received €136,000 from customers through money transfers, while €169,000 was lodged into his bank account. The court heard some of the money from money transfers may have been replicated in his account.

Grdzelishili received approximately €114,000 in money transfers, while €69,500 was lodged into her bank account. The court heard gardaí believe these were entirely separate deposits.

The court heard the accused have two children, both of whom are living in Ireland and one of whom is now an adult. Neither accused have ever been in receipt of social welfare while in the state.

Det Sgt Collins agreed with Seamus Clarke SC, defending Jokhadze, that his client was a qualified music teacher in Georgia, but could not secure employment of this nature in Ireland.

The sergeant agreed with counsel that his client developed a chronic drug addiction to crack cocaine during the time frame of offending. He agreed some of the money from the illegal enterprise went on feeding his drug addiction.

Det Sgt Collins agreed that Jokhadze made admissions in interview which were valuable to the prosecution.

Det Sgt Collins agreed with Michael Bowman SC, defending Grdzelishili, that this is an offence of human trafficking, but it is not the case people were coerced or forced to travel to the state for “nefarious purpose” such as prostitution or forced labour.

The sergeant agreed with counsel that “asylum seeking” and economic migration were the causes of people wishing to travel to the state using the false documents.

Det Sgt Collins agreed that Grdzelishili’s priority is the well-being of her son and that there is no other appropriate carer available. He agreed the accused’s woman ex-husband appears to have been the “main driver” of the criminal enterprise.

Mr Clarke said a large proportion of the sums were used to fund his client’s chronic drug addiction. He submitted his client was a “middle man” in the whole process.

Counsel said his client has already served a significant period of time in custody following his arrest in October 2019.

Mr Bowman said that should his client be imprisoned, the only option seems to be that her son would go into state care. He said he was not submitting that a mother cannot be jailed, but said the court must look long and hard at all of the circumstances of the case.

Counsel said his client was not the “prime mover” in the offences. He said she was not a person who is “inherently criminal”.

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