A BROTHEL manager who brought his sordid vice network to York may have been in the UK illegally for as long as 23 years.

For the first time, Rajakumar Ravi has admitted setting up a seedy prostitution den in the city, under the guise of a massage parlour where illegal Chinese immigrants were paid for sex.

Now the Malaysian-born 47-year-old and his accomplice, Chi Peng Iok, are beginning 21-month jail sentences after undercover police officers posing as customers infiltrated the brothel they set up in Nicholas Street, off Lawrence Street.

It was one of 11 sex-for-sale shops the pair operated across the UK over a 30-month period, allowing them to pocket thousands of pounds through the desperation of Chinese girls trying to “eke out a miserable existence”.

But Ravi, of Cholmley Street, Hull, and 45-year-old Iok, of Liverpool – who is set to be deported following her prison sentence, after staying in the UK unlawfully following her 2004 arrival on a student visa – were arrested when North Yorkshire Police targeted their York base as part of a people-trafficking probe.

Officers discovered the Nicholas Street “massage parlour” also offered sex at £100-an-hour, which led to the brothel being raided last December.

York Crown Court heard Ravi, a trained technical engineer, said he had come to the UK on a visa 23 years ago and had had a string of jobs – including working on the Channel Tunnel – possibly by using a forged National Insurance number, which allowed him to pay tax and avoid being thrown out of the country.

Although Judge Michael Murphy did not make a recommendation to the Border & Immigration Agency about whether Ravi should be deported, he said he wanted them to “take a serious look” at how he avoided detection and became a brothel boss.

Edward Bindloss, prosecuting, said: “Ravi arranged the tenancies – they were suburban properties in quiet streets. He spoke to the owners, arranged adverts containing mobile phone numbers and was involved in day-to-day dealings with other agencies, such as landlords and council tax officials.

“Iok’s role was to deal with the prostitutes, answer the phone and welcome customers, as her English was good enough for this limited purpose. In some properties, she was ‘front of house’.”

Two bank accounts in Iok’s name, but controlled by Ravi, were used for the brothels’ transactions, with the York vice den being set up in February 2007.

Mr Bindless said: “This was slightly different in that Iok signed the tenancy agreement as well, and another man’s name was also used, although he didn’t sign it. ‘Test purchase’ police officers were sent in three times in November and December that year, and although they tried to restrict the sessions to massage, they were offered sexual intercourse and other services.

“Following this, Iok was arrested in York, together with another Chinese woman, and Ravi was arrested in Hull. Iok admitted the premises in York were used for prostitution and that she cooked, cleaned and fulfilled other duties there.”

Glenn Parsons, for Ravi, said: “The brothels were on a small scale – only one was found to have more than one girl working at any one time. He says that because of his contacts with the Chinese community and ability to speak Chinese, he was approached by others about renting the properties and being their acceptable face. He accepts he managed them, but the full management was kept at arm’s length.”

Simon Keeley, for Iok, said: “It’s clear others were involved outside these two defendants.

“Iok was careful to ensure these young women who worked in the brothels voluntarily were looked after – their welfare was her concern. She has a 20-year-old daughter in China and the plan was to send money back for her university fees and make savings so she could study here, but that never transpired.”

Both Ravi and Iok admitted conspiracy to manage brothels and acquiring, possessing or using criminal property, namely money.

Raid part of UK-wide crackdown

THE raid on the Nicholas Street brothel was part of Operation Pentameter 2, a UK-wide police probe into human trafficking.

Officers arrested both Ravi and Iok on December 18, when their crackdown on York’s sex trade also discovered a Chinese woman, who may have been smuggled into the country, illegally working as a prostitute.

It followed a similar investigation into a brothel in the South Bank area of the city earlier this year, which led to Chinese madam Li Yang and her boyfriend Peiwen Shi being jailed.

“It is clear from this case that, although brothels of this nature do not appear to be prevalent within York and North Yorkshire, they are present,” said Detective Sergeant Malcolm Poole, who headed the inquiry as part of North Yorkshire Police’s role in Pentameter 2.

“It is also clear the organised criminality is at the root of this offending, with large profits being available to those responsible for that organisation.”

Pair ‘did not make big profits’

THE string of brothels Rajakumar Ravi and Chi Peng Iok ran stretched across the UK – but neither is thought to have made massive profits from them.

At various times during the two-and-a-half years the prostitution dens operated, separate payments of £27,000, £35,000 and £9,700 were made into three bank accounts, two in Iok’s name and one in the name of another woman.

But the court heard the total amount of cash spent on the 11 properties during the same period was £65,734, before other costs such as the prostitutes’ wages were taken into account.

Ravi claimed he got a retainer of £200 a month for each brothel. The Crown Prosecution Service said this suggested he pocketed about £16,600.

As well as the York brothel, two similar operations were run in Scarborough and Grimsby, with others being set up in Hull, Luton, Derby, Crewe, Redcar and Llandudno.

Judge Michael Murphy said their sentences would have been much longer had their activities also included human trafficking.