Yali Geng, 20, pictured arriving today at Maidstone Crown Court had a bank account in her name which had £150,000 paid into et between May 2015 and July 2018
An organised crime gang of Chinese nationals was behind a network of brothels operating across south east England, a court heard.
Properties were rented in London, Essex and Kent using fake identities and by people falsely claiming to be employed by telecommunications company Huawei.
Young women, themselves often Chinese and advertised as ‘high quality’, were then put to work in the brothels, referred to by those involved as ‘shops’.
The organised crime group was said to have ‘a large number of sex workers’ at its disposal and there was a frequent changeover of women.
Brothels were located in Tunbridge Wells, Kent, one in nearby Tonbridge, another in Brentwood in Essex and others in Surrey and various parts of London.
During one police raid at a flat in Tunbridge Wells officers found a woman scantily-clad in a Cheerleader’s outfit and with £1,000 cash.
Three women, including the partner of the man described as the operation’s ‘central figure’, have gone on trial over their alleged involvement in running the sex houses and laundering the cash proceeds.
Shuangyan Hu, 37, Yali Geng, 20, and Pikwa Wong, 27, all deny two offences of conspiracy to keep a brothel between December 31, 2014, and July 26, 2018.
Three of the alleged sex houses were in a flat at The Depository in Rock Villa Road, Tunbridge Wells, and nearby properties in Lime Hill Road and Dudley Road.
The women are also accused of money laundering between the same dates.
Maidstone Crown Court, Kent, heard today that approximately £150,000 was paid into a Halifax bank account held in Geng’s name between May 2015 and July 2018.
Police found £1,000 in cash inside a Gucci handbag when they raided the Islington home of Pikwa Wong, pictured outside Maidstone Crown Court today, Wong lived in the house with Geng
Geng, pictured outside the court, denies money laundering and running brothels along with her housemate Wong
Prosecutor Alan Gardner said this was the network’s ‘principal’ account into which the money generated by the brothels was paid.
When the home she shared with Wong in Islington, north London, was searched last year, police found £1,000 cash in a Gucci handbag.
At the heart of the conspiracy was Hu’s partner, Dongning Zhang, also known as Leo and referred to as ‘the boss’, who has pleaded guilty to his involvement.
The court also heard the home he shared with Hu and their young daughter in Harrow, Middlesex, was the ‘headquarters and call centre’ for the brothels.
Police found ‘a wealth of documentation’ at the property in St Kilda’s Road, including records of girls’ names, customers, and rates charged of £60-70 for a half-hour sex session, or £100-120 for a full hour.
Also at the property were 17 mobile phones and £8,000 cash, also said to be linked to the operation.
At the start of the trial, Mr Gardner told the jury of eight women and four men: ‘This case is about, say the prosecution, an organised crime group of Chinese nationals operating a network of brothels, in south east England largely but also elsewhere.
Maidstone Crown Court heard the gang operated a number of brothels across the south east of England
‘The organisation seemingly had a large number of sex workers at its disposal as the “business model” for the brothels involved a frequent changeover of sex workers at each location.
‘The prosecution case is that each of these women (on trial) were participants in criminal agreements, conspiracies, to run or assist in the running of those brothels and to convert the money generated by those brothels by putting it through bank accounts, money laundering if you like.
‘Each of these women played a part. Hu by assisting her partner to run the operation from their home address; Geng and Wong by making bank accounts available for the purpose of funding the operation and by assisting Zhang with the rental of properties.’
The court heard much of their phone communication was via an app similar to WhatsApp called WeChat.
Wong and ‘Leo’ discussed business ideas as far back as 2013 and in September 2014 he sent her a message saying: ‘The organisation needs you. You can be in charge of renting out properties.
‘I can hand this all over to you to handle and I don’t have to worry and can concentrate on running the shops.
‘You look for people. Each takes half the earnings.’
Wong later told police payments made to her totalling £12,500 was money from making bespoke jewellery and from her parents in China.
Both she and Geng denied any involvement in brothels or money laundering.
However, Mr Gardner told the court: ‘They were knowingly assisting Leo in the running of the brothels. They knew the true nature of Leo’s operation and they both assisted him in the acquisition of rental properties and the significant amounts paid into the bank accounts.’
Hu remained silent throughout her police interview.
Mr Gardner said the brothel-related material found at her home was ‘all over the house’.
‘It was the HQ of the organisation The reality is Zhang was running the brothels from here, assisted by his partner, Hu. It was a call centre for the operation.’
The court heard that a second man, Kai Shao, 63, from Millwall, east London, has also pleaded guilty to being involved in the operation.
He was responsible for acting as housekeeper, receptionist, security guard and ‘babysitter’ for the prostitutes at two brothels in Tunbridge Wells.
The trial continues.