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Suspected brothel in Rock Villa Road, Tunbridge Wells, four people deny involvement

By Paul Hooper

Police raided a flat in Tunbridge Wells officers found a woman scantily-clad in a cheerleader's outfit and with £1,000 cash, it has been claimed.

Three women, including one who is the partner of the man described as the operation's "central figure", are 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.

Police found a suspected brothel during a raid in Rock Villa Road, Tunbridge Wells. Picture: Google
Police found a suspected brothel during a raid in Rock Villa Road, Tunbridge Wells. Picture: Google

A jury at Maidstone Crown Court has been told an organised crime gang of Chinese nationals were behind a network of brothels operating across south east England.

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.

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.

The jury were told that that approximately £150,000 was paid into a Halifax bank account held in Geng's name between May 2015 and July 2018.

"They were knowingly assisting Leo in the running of the brothels" - prosecutor Alan Gardner

Prosecutor Alan Gardner claimed it 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, 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.

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.

The trial is taking place at Maidstone Crown Court
The trial is taking place at Maidstone Crown Court

"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 when interviewed by police.

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.

Mr Gardner alleged that 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," he said.

The court heard 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 suspected brothels in Tunbridge Wells.

The trial continues.

To read more of our in depth coverage of all of the major trials coming out of crown and magistrates' courts across the county, click here

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