A woman has been found guilty of people trafficking after she forced two Nigerian women into prostitution by making them eat snakes in an African black magic ceremony.
Lizzy Idahosa, 24, and her husband Jackson Omoruyi, 41, made more than £70,000 out of the women, who were terrified with voodoo and made see a witchdoctor for a sinister ‘juju’ ceremony.
Both are now facing jail after Idahosa was convicted of trafficking the women, inciting them to become prostitutes and transferring criminal property, while Omoruyi was found guilty of money laundering. During the couple’s trial at Cardiff Crown Court, the jury was told that the two victims, aged 23 and 29, had their pubic hair shaved and forced to eat live snakes and snails as part of the ritual, and then flown to Britain in the belief that they were going to find a better life.
However, when they arrived in the UK they were put to work as prostitutes, working in brothels at massage parlours across England and Wales
They were told they had to give all the money they earned to Idahosa, and believed the black magic curses would make them go insane or die if they refused.
‘The couple were involved in the exploitation of two women brought into the UK from Nigeria to work as prostitutes,’ said Caroline Rees, prosecuting, during the trial.
‘They were bound to this by something called a juju ritual. It was a ceremonial ritual used to full effect to terrify both women into doing what was demanded of them.
‘It was used to ensure compliance, secrecy, and they believed if they broke the bond dire consequences would follow: illness, madness, infertility or death.
They genuinely believed the powers would work.’
The offences came to light after police arrested a 23-year-old Nigerian woman at the Ambassador Suite brothel in Cardiff, in June 2013.
She told officers she had been living rough in Nigeria after her mother died and had wanted to travel to the UK to find her father.
She had then met a woman, claiming to be Idahosa’s sister, who promised to make arrangements for her to travel to London, and as part of the agreement had to take part in the ceremony.
‘She did not know what was expected of her,’ said Ms Rees, who said the woman had been able to pass through immigration at Heathrow.
‘She was taken to a premises full of women dressed in their underwear. There was no explanation as to what was going on but it soon became clear.’
The woman started to work as a prostitute and was forced to have sexual intercourse with seven or eight men every day, working in brothels across the UK, including in Cardiff and Swansea.
When interviewed, she claimed she had given Idahosa £45,000.
The second victim told the court she had paid the defendants £31,400 over two years after working in brothels in Cardiff, Swansea, Barking and East Croydon, and said she had worked in South Wales for a year and eight months.
The woman, who like her fellow victim cannot be named for legal reasons, said she had stopped working and changed her sim card so Idahosa could not contact her.
However, within a month she received a phone call from her mother in Nigeria.
‘I had a call from my mum who told me Lizzy’s people had been to her house and threatened her,’ the victim told the jury.
‘Lizzy said if I did not pay her she would kill my mum and make me go mad.’
Idahosa and Omoruyi, who were arrested at their home in London, denied any wrong doing.
But police checked their bank accounts and found a series of transfers with Omoruyi acting as a ‘financial middle man’.
Idahosa had denied forcing the women to take part in a black magic ceremony, but claimed that she herself had been trafficked into the UK and forced to work as a prostitute.
She told the jury she did not know the two women had been trafficked.
‘It was only when I told them I was trafficked into the country that I found out they were trafficked,’ she said.
Idahosa, who is heavily pregnant, said she made an oath with her trafficker before leaving Nigeria and was forced to eat the roast heart of a cockerel.
She said: ‘I wouldn’t do the things they say I did because I’ve been through it.’
The jury was told that cash payments of several hundred pounds a time had been deposited into Omoruyi’s account from locations all over the country, including Glasgow, Sheffield and Southampton.
He had claimed that money came from his friend.
‘I am the kind of person who likes clothes and shoes and I’m known for that – I like to find bargains,’ he said.
‘It is not that it is any fraud money or anything. My account has not been used for anything like that.’
During an interview with police, he said: ‘I am here to say I do not even know the people you are talking about – I have never seen them.
‘I have never involved myself in that kind of activity in this country, even before this country. I have not and I would not,’ he had claimed.
Idahosa was convicted of a total of eight counts including trafficking two women into and around the UK, inciting them to become prostitutes and transferring criminal property.
Omoruyi was convicted of two offences of money laundering.
These two defendants were involved in an elaborate deception, taking advantage of cultural and financial issues in order to gain a devastating hold over their vulnerable victims
A jury at Cardiff Crown Court took just five hours to find them guilty. Both were remanded in custody today to be sentenced next month, but judge Tom Crowther QC warned them they will face lengthy custodial sentences.
Speaking after the verdicts had been given, Ms Rees said: ‘This was a despicable and callous crime.
‘These two defendants were involved in an elaborate deception, taking advantage of cultural and financial issues in order to gain a devastating hold over their vulnerable victims.
‘Once the victims had entered the UK, they were exploited and abused in the most brutal manner. Human trafficking is totally unacceptable in our society.
‘I hope today’s convictions will send a clear message that those who seek to degrade and demean others for their own personal gain can expect to be pursued and prosecuted to the full extent of the law.
‘It took an immense amount of courage for the victims to come forward and seek to break free from their ordeal. I hope that their courage will act as an inspiration for others who may find themselves in a similar position.
‘Whilst we cannot undo what has already happened to these victims, we can hope that today’s convictions will help them as they try to move on from their ordeal.’
A spokesman for the Home Office, which led the investigation, said: ‘Trafficking is an appalling crime that has no place in today’s society but, as this case has shown, it is taking place here.
‘That is why we are taking action on a number of fronts.
‘We are working with law enforcement overseas, the law is being strengthened and the Modern Slavery Bill, one of the first of its kind in the world, will make it easier to prosecute the criminals behind trafficking and improve the protection of victims.