Sentences extended for Nigerian traffickers who forced victims into prostitution after ‘voodoo ceremony’

The Court of Appeal has extended the sentences of two Nigerian women who forced their human trafficking victims into prostitution in Ireland after carrying out a “voodoo ceremony” in the first conviction of its kind in Ireland. 

Alicia Edosa (46) and her co-accused Edith Enoghaghase (33) had originally pleaded not guilty to two counts of trafficking women around Ireland between September 2016 and June 2018. However, following a trial that lasted 25 days, they were found guilty of human trafficking, prostitution, and money laundering at Mullingar Circuit Court in June 2021.

The Nigerian nationals, who brought the young women from a deprived background illegally to Ireland, were sentenced to more than five years in jail in September 2021 by Judge Francis Comerford.

On Monday, quashing an appeal by the women, Mr Justice George Birmingham said the court of appeal would increase Endosa’s sentence to seven-and-a-half years in jail, and re-sentence Enoghaghase to seven years and one month in jail.

The Nigerian women lived in Mullingar which they used as a base for illegal trafficking and prostitution activities

Enoghaghase’s husband, Omonuwa Desmond Osaighbovo (30) was also found guilty of four money laundering offences, and was given a suspended sentence of two years and three months for the money laundering convictions. 

Four women who gave evidence told the court that they were forced into prostitution in Ireland after taking part in a voodoo ceremony in their native Nigeria, during which they professed obedience to Edosa and Enoghaghase. The four vulnerable women were trafficked into Ireland using fake Irish passports to be abused by the traffickers.

In the chilling evidence, one woman claimed that she was forced to pull the heart out of a chicken during the ceremony, and the women also promised that they would not attempt to escape or speak to gardai once they arrived in Ireland. They said they were told that if they did, they would risk themselves and their families coming to harm. 

Another one of the women was told by Enoghaghase that if she broke her oath of obedience her mother “would go to hell and she would roam mad”. Other disturbing details relating to what took place at the ceremony emerged, with the complainant telling the trial that she was brought to a voodoo ceremony where they shaved off her hair.

The migrants were forced into prostitution once they came to Ireland, with one of the women stating that she was ordered to pay back €50,000 for the cost of bringing her to Ireland or else either she or her son would be killed. All four women were told they owed the traffickers significant sums of cash – ranging from  €35,000 to €60,000 for arranging their travel to Ireland from Nigeria. 

The women came to Ireland believing they were going to be working as shop assistants, however were sent all across the country as prostitutes, including in Limerick, Cork, Galway, Castlebar, Navan, Athlone, Letterkenny, Cavan and Dundalk. 

During the trial, the two co-accused argued that there was missing evidence in the case, owing to text messages that had been deleted from phones used by two complainants. They went on to appeal their convictions, while the State cross-appealed the sentences handed down to the sex traffickers on the grounds that they were unduly lenient.

Edosa had also appealed against the severity of her sentence. Her counsel told the Court of Appeal that two of the victims had handed phones over to gardai, which they claimed Edosa used to contact them. Edosa’s counsel argued that it later transpired that a number of messages from the same number had been deleted from both phones.

On one phone, 29 out of 101 text messages had been wiped, while it was found 27 out of 117 messages had been removed from the second phone. 

However, on Monday, Mr Justice George Birmingham dismissed the appeal at the Midland’s Court, announcing that he would quash the original sentence and re-sentence both women to increased jail terms. 

“We are satisfied that the sentences actually imposed in this case did represent a substantial departure from what we consider would have been the appropriate sentences in the circumstances,” Mr Justice Birmingham said, adding that the case had posed challenges due to it being the first of its kind in Ireland.

“In fairness to the sentencing judge, he was faced with having to sentence for a new type of offence in the absence of any comparator guidelines of appellate court guidance,” he said.

 “While we have expressed disagreement with his calibration of the gravity of the respondents’ offending conduct, we think it important to say that our recording of such disagreement does not amount to criticism of him.

“It also clearly follows from the finding of undue leniency that Ms Edosa’s cross-appeal against the severity of her sentence is being dismissed.”

He said that the headline sentence for each of the women “cannot properly be less than ten years’ imprisonment”. Mr Justice Birmingham said the trial judge had initially identified eight years’ imprisonment as a pre-mitigation headline sentence before allowing for previous good character, the need for rehabilitation and the personal circumstances of the traffickers.

 “The approach of the sentencing judge was to address mitigation by reducing the headline sentence, in the first place by 25 per cent. We do not think the judge was in error in that regard, so we will reduce both headline sentences to ones of seven and a half years.

“The sentencing judge, who was particularly well placed to make an assessment of this, having presided over a six-week trial, felt it appropriate to differentiate between the two appellants to a limited extent and we will follow his lead in that regard. So, we will further reduce the sentence of Ms Enoghaghase by an additional five months,” said Mr Justice Birmingham.

He said the court was dismissing the appeals on the grounds of missing evidence because this claim from the co-accused amounted to “pure speculation” on whether or not the deleted text messages were “exculpatory” in nature.

“There is no further evidence to the effect that gardaí should have been put on notice of a need to carry out further investigations as a result of the telephones,” he said.

Fiona Murphy SC, for the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) maintained that “no case has been made to establish that the prosecution or gardai did not seek evidence” in regard to the missing text messages. She added that the jury had “carefully considered the evidence before it” before finding Edosa guilty of the charges and that there had been “no dereliction of duty” by investigating gardaí.

Thomas O’Malley SC, also for the DPP, later told the court that the sentences handed down to both women had been too lenient. He said that while the maximum term for human trafficking was life imprisonment, because both of the women were the first people in this country to be convicted of the offence, he would rely on comparisons with other jurisdictions outside Ireland in his submission.

He added that the Sentencing Council for England and Wales had recommended 15 year-terms for similar offences. He said the victims in the case had been treated as “chattel” by both women, and the appropriate sentence would be in the “upper-echelons” of the middle range of a 15-year term. 

He said that a sentence of between 7 and 10 years would have been a more suitable punishment regarding the prostitution offences. He said that a very important mitigating factor which had been absent in both women’s cases had been a plea of guilty, stating: “The sentences imposed were simply unduly lenient”.

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