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HMA v Jagpal Singh, Donglin Zhang, Vlassis Ntaoulias and Boonsong Wannas


Nov 14, 2022

At the High Court in Glasgow on 10 November 2022, Judge Brown sentenced Jagpal Singh, Donglin Zhang, Vlassis Ntaoulias and Boonsong Wannas to periods of imprisonment ranging from 7 years to 10 years in respect of human trafficking involving exploitation through prostitution.


On sentencing, Judge Brown said:

"All four of you were convicted after trial or pled guilty to the crime of human trafficking with a view to women being exploited through prostitution. This crime involves the deliberate degrading of fellow human beings. It is a de-humanising experience for the victim in that she is deprived of the ability to act in her own interests and is valued not as a person but merely as a potential source of profit.

"It is rarely easy for a person who is exploited in this way to complain about their treatment or to report the matter to the authorities, particularly when they are in an unfamiliar country and language difficulties prevent them from communicating with other people, which was a feature in some of the charges in this case. When such offences do come to light, it is the practice of the courts to impose substantial sentences in order to punish the offender in a manner which adequately reflects the gravity of this crime, to deter others from regarding the exploitation of others as a potential money-making opportunity and to protect the vulnerable from being exploited in this way. Given the gravity of the crimes in this case, the only appropriate sentence in respect of each of you is a substantial sentence of imprisonment.

"In each of your cases I have taken account of what has been said in the criminal justice social work reports and by counsel in mitigation on your behalf.

"In relation to the aggravations attached to the charges in respect of connections with serious organised crime and with human trafficking activity, the features which support these aggravations are inherent in the offences of which you were convicted and fall to be taken into account in selecting the appropriate sentence for the offences themselves. For that reason I am not going to increase the sentences on account of the aggravations.

"I will briefly go through each of the charges on which you were convicted.

"You Jagpal Singh and Donglin Zhang were convicted on charge 2 which involved the human trafficking of a young Chinese lady who came from China to this country in September 2018 on the basis that you would find her paid employment. She could only communicate in Mandarin. You took possession of her passport and within a month or so coerced her into working as a prostitute. In particular you, Donglin Zhang told her that if she refused to do so, she would never get back to China. She worked as a prostitute almost on a daily basis for some three months from around mid-October 2018 until mid-January 2019 when a client apparently took pity on her and gave her some money which enabled her to escape. It was apparent from the evidence that her prostitution would have generated a substantial amount of money but that enriched only you as none of it was given to her.

"You Jagpal Singh were convicted on charge 3, another charge of human trafficking. Like charge 2, this involved a young Chinese lady who could only communicate in Mandarin and who came to Glasgow on the basis that you would find her paid employment here. Soon after her arrival she was coerced into working as a prostitute. She said in evidence that she felt that she had no choice in the matter. She was providing sexual services to on average of five or six clients a day in a flat in Glasgow or at other places where she was taken. Sometimes clients would complain that she was not good enough and you would tell her to work better or she would not be given any food. Again, substantial amounts of money would have been generated by her prostitution and none of it was given to her. Eventually she too managed to escape.

"You Jagpal Singh, Donglin Zhang and Vlassis Ntaoulias were convicted on charge 5 which involved operating brothels in two flats in Glasgow. One of them in Albion Street was rented by you Jagpal Singh.  It was inspected by a representative of the letting agency on 30 August 2018 and was very obviously operating as a brothel. The other flat in Oswald Street was rented by you Vlassis Ntaoulias and was the flat where the two victims in charges 2 and 3 were required to work as prostitutes.

"Thereafter Jagpal Singh dropped out of the picture as he left the country on 2 September 2019 but the business of making money from prostitution was continued by you Donglin Zhang and Vlassis Ntaoulias from then until the middle of February 2020 when the police became involved. In particular you continued with the business of human trafficking though prostitution as alleged in charge 10, this being centred on a flat in Charlotte Street, Glasgow which you were operating as a brothel, as alleged in charge 9.

"You Donglin Zhang were also convicted on charges 11 and 12 which related to the advertising of sexual services in order to facilitate the business of exploiting women through prostitution. These two charges are in similar terms and were obviously split because of the involvement of two different co-accused, both of whom were acquitted, apparently having been unaware of the nature of the business you were operating and which, because you had gained their trust, they had unwittingly been assisting.

"You Boonsong Wannas pled guilty to charges 7 and 8 on the indictment. Charge 7 was a charge of human trafficking and Charge 8 was a charge of keeping or operating brothels at 3 different flats in Glasgow.

"The human trafficking charge related to a young Thai woman who came to this country to earn money to pay off substantial debts and on the basis that you would find her work as a masseuse and sex worker and that her earnings would be split equally between the two of you. She could not speak English. You paid her air fare and arranged for her to obtain a UK tourist Visa. When she arrived here on 10 January 2020, you took her to a flat you owned in Cathcart Road where another prostitute was working and told her that she owed you £5000 for the air fare and Visa application. She began working as a prostitute the following day. A neighbour complained about the flat operating as a brothel, the police became involved and in order to avoid them you moved her to another flat in Linden Street where she continued to work as a prostitute, along with two other women who were working there as prostitutes. You were advertising for her clients, organising their attendance and arranging the sexual activity and the price. She felt she had no choice but to do as instructed as otherwise she would be unable to pay the £5000 which you said she owed you and her outstanding debts in Thailand. At the start of February 2020, you moved her and the other two women to work in a third flat in Charlotte Street, Glasgow, being the flat referred to in charge 9 which was operating as a brothel, before moving her back to the Linden Street flat where she continued to work as a prostitute until the police raided that flat on 13 February 2020.


Jagpal Singh  

The Criminal Justice Social Work report (CJSWR) notes that you denied committing the crimes of which you were convicted and accused the victims of lying, that you demonstrated no empathy for the victims and that your attitude at interview was cold and callous.

I will impose one sentence in respect of the three charges on which you were convicted, being charges 2, 3 and 5, which are two charges of human trafficking and one charge of keeping a brothel. That sentence is 10 years imprisonment from 14 September 2022.

Donglin Zhang

The CJSWR notes that you too denied committing the crimes of which you were convicted and accused the victims of lying and that you displayed limited victim empathy.

You were frequently referred to in evidence as the female boss and it was clear that you played a leading role in the criminal activity described in the charges. I take account of the mitigating factors referred to in the CJSWR, being your history of mental health difficulties and the indications that you may at one time have been trafficked yourself. As regards mental health difficulties however, it did not appear from the evidence that this had any effect on your ability to take a leading role as a boss in what was plainly a business operation – and as regards the indications that you were at one time trafficked yourself, that might reasonably have been expected to result in a particular awareness of the pernicious nature of this crime and a reluctance to subject other women to it.

I will impose one sentence in respect of the six charges on which you were convicted, being charges 2 and 10, which are charges of human trafficking, 5 and 9, which are charges of brothel keeping, and charges 11 and 12, which relate to the advertising of sexual services. That sentence is 8 years imprisonment from 14 September 2022.

Vlassis Ntaoulias

The CJSWR notes that despite being convicted on charges 5, 9 and 10, the only thing you are prepared to accept is that in relation to charge 9 you knew that the flat in Charlotte Street which you were renting was being operated by Donglin Zhang as a brothel and that you sought to minimise your role and avoid responsibility.

Although you bear joint responsibility with the co-accused in respect of the charges on which you were convicted, the evidence indicated that although you played a significant role, it was not a leading role – unlike the position of your co-accused. That reduces the level of culpability or blameworthiness and so a lesser sentence is appropriate.

The one sentence I will impose in respect of all three charges is 7 years imprisonment from 14 September 2022.

Boonsong Wannas

The CJSWR notes that, despite having pled guilty to two charges, you denied committed these offences and displayed limited victim empathy. 

In terms of your guilty plea, which is the basis on which I will impose sentence, the victim of the human trafficking charge, charge 7, knew that she was coming to this country to work as a prostitute, so there was no element of deception in relation to that, but when she came here she was exploited by you and, as I previously said, felt that she had no choice but to do what you wanted.

The guilty plea which was subsequently accepted by the Crown was originally offered on 8 August before the start of the trial and a discount on the sentence is appropriate to reflect that. I also take account of the fact that prior to your remand in custody on 14 September 2022 you spent 34 days in custody in respect of this case and so I will backdate the sentence to 34 days prior to 14 September, being 1 August 2022.

An appropriate sentence in respect of both charges is 7 years’ imprisonment but I will reduce that to 6 years 4 months’ imprisonment due to your guilty plea and that will run from 1 August 2022.

"In relation to each of you I am making a trafficking and exploitation prevention order in terms of section 17 of the Human Trafficking and Exploitation (Sc) Act 2015 as I am satisfied that the statutory criteria for making an order are met. These will be on the conditions accepted by you or as I have indicated in discussion with counsel. The orders will last for 5 years from your release from prison.”