- Lucy Williamson
- BBC News – Bucharest
Romanian police are expanding their investigation into former kickboxing champion Andrew Tate, who over the weekend seized a fleet of luxury cars from his Bucharest compound and raided seven other properties – including a newly renovated villa in the Carpathian Mountains.
A photo of Tate’s shiny gray Porsche sitting on top of a rickety police tow truck changed the man’s fortunes. A slow convoy of trucks, through the tall black gates of his compound, carried his prized collection of luxury cars and with him into police custody.
Along the way, a single fan stood watching. “I’m considered a fan,” Emmanuel told me. “Every boy likes his lifestyle.”
“I don’t like what I’m hearing from him, but we’ll see if it’s true. I’ll change my mind if I see evidence,” he added.
Some see the confiscation of the cars as a sign that the Romanian authorities are preparing for the next phase in the case, to secure assets against possible compensation claims from victims, should Andrew Tate or his brother Tristan be accused of human trafficking .
The raids on seven more properties last week are widely seen as a sign that investigators are expanding their search for evidence in the case.
In the town of Komarnik, a two-hour drive to the north, Villa Tate, which the police raided on Thursday, towers over the surrounding houses. There are small cottages built by hand against the high walls that surround the property.
Neighbors here say the property was completely renovated last year, only completed a few months ago.
Trindavier Beldica lives in a pal apartment building next to the main gate of the villa.
“The man in charge of the construction asked me to work on the electrical, but when they explained what they wanted, I told them it was way beyond what I knew how to do,” Trandavier told me said.
The interior of the house, he said, has “every comfort you can think of.”
He explained: “It (the villa) is very luxurious. It is divided into apartments [و] They can afford to build a swimming pool – something people like us wouldn’t even dare to dream about.”
How Andrew Tate made his money forms a central part of the investigation.
Police want to know whether Tate lured the women to Romania with promises of a serious relationship or marriage, before forcing or manipulating them to work for him as models in recreational pornographic chat rooms.
They are also looking into allegations of rape made by one of the witnesses.
Investigators have confirmed that six women have been identified as possible victims. But last week two of the women in the investigation publicly denied any abuse by the Tate brothers.
The two women – who have tattoos of the words “Tate’s property” and “Tate’s girlfriend” – worked at the Bucharest compound where Andrew Tate lived with his brother and the models who were employees of his webcam porn business wash.
Speaking to Romanian TV channel Antena 1, one of the women – identified only as Beatrice – said she had been a “close friend” of the Tate brothers for two years and had the words Tate girl tattooed on her arm ” out of respect”.
The other woman – Jasmine – said she had never seen Tate or his brother Tristan “aggressive or rude”.
The BBC verified their identities with a former member of the Tate team.
“I’ve never been threatened,” Beatrice said. “And if that had happened, I wouldn’t have been stupid enough to stay in this house.”
“You cannot describe me as a victim in the case file if I am not a victim,” she added.
Recounting what happened when police first entered the complex in December, Beatrice said 20 officers went in and went upstairs to a bedroom, where she said two other women had locked themselves in for fear of a raid.
“They broke down the door. They shouted [النساء]’ said Beatrice.
“But the police did not see that the bedroom key was lying on the bed,” she added.
BBC News spoke to others who had a different account of the raid.
There is little clarity about the evidence investigators have collected so far. Among the Tate brothers’ former associates are allegations, counter-allegations and conspiracy theories.
No charges have yet been filed, but Mihaela Dragos, spokeswoman for Romania’s National Agency for Combating Human Trafficking, says the case does indeed send a strong message to both traffickers and victims.
“The fact that the justice system decided to keep the brothers in custody, even during the initial phase,” she says [من القضية]It sends a very important message.”
And in one of his videos on social media, Andrew Tate explains why he moved to Romania in 2017.
He says, “One [من أسبابي] This is the era of #MeToo.” He added: “People say: You are a rapist. No, I’m not a rapist, but I like the idea of being able to do what I want, I like being free.”
He said, “If you go to the police [الرومانية] She said: He raped me yesterday, they will say ok, do you have proof? Is there evidence of surveillance cameras?
None of this implicates Tate in human trafficking or rape, but his assessment of Romania’s stance on sexual crimes is not wrong, said Laura Stefan, a legal expert and prominent anti-corruption campaigner at the Expert Forum think tank.
“In a way he’s right,” she told me. “Listening to him, and the way he explained why he came here, I can get it. I think he did the good math — unfortunately.”
But she says things are changing.
“Romania has a serious problem with human trafficking, and I think the Romanian authorities have realized that it needs to be dealt with,” she explained.
“This means not only investigating a handful of skilled people, but also working with the victims and providing them with support.”
Last year, Romania made enough progress for the US State Department to remove its name from the watch list in its annual Trafficking in Persons Report.
But the report also reiterated concerns about the involvement of Romanian officials themselves in human trafficking.
The case, involving a controversial and high-profile American-British citizen, has shed new light on how Romania deals with allegations of organized crime and sexual exploitation.
Police have less than two weeks to charge the Tate brothers, or find enough evidence to convince a judge to extend their detention while the investigation continues.
And Andrew Tate’s reputation is on the line. Such is the reputation of Romania.