Kickboxer Andrew Tate held in Romania for human trafficking
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Former professional kickboxer and controversial influencer Andrew Tate appeared in a Romanian court Friday following his arrest for alleged human trafficking, rape and forming a criminal group.
The move came just days after Tate had a heated Twitter exchange with Swedish environmentalist Greta Thunberg which internet users speculated helped Romanian police to locate and arrest him.
Tate, who holds British and US nationality, and his brother Tristan were detained for an initial "24 hours", a spokeswoman for a Romanian body fighting organised crime, Ramona Bolla, told AFP on Friday.
A court hearing in Bucharest to decide whether to put the four suspects -- the Tate brothers and two Romanian citizens -- in pre-trial detention for 30 days began at 2:00 pm (1200 GMT).
Viral Twitter exchanges between Tate and Thunberg this week on subjects ranging from cars with "enormous emissions" to pizza boxes, fuelled speculation on social media that the arrests followed Tate's spats with the Swedish activist.
Internet users speculated that the brand of pizza featured in a video posted by Tate in his angry exchanges with Thunberg helped police confirm Tate’s presence in Romania.
Thunberg quipped on Twitter that "this is what happens when you don’t recycle your pizza boxes”.
"It's not related," spokeswoman Bolla told AFP.
"To determine whether a person is in the country or not, we use a whole range of means", she added, stressing that "arrest warrants and searches" had already been in place.
Greta Thunberg's spokesperson confirmed to AFP that her tweet this morning, which garnered about 1.6 million likes so far, was in fact a "joke", adding that the Romanian authorities "have not been in touch with her."
Since the beginning of 2021, the prosecution has been investigating the suspects and had already searched Tate's villa in April.
According to a DIICOT statement issued Thursday, the influencer, his brother and two Romanians are suspected of "organised crimes", "rape" and "human trafficking" in several countries.
So far six potential victims have been identified.
The suspects recruited and exploited women by coercing them into "forced labour... and pornographic acts with a view to producing and disseminating such material" online to "obtain substantial financial benefits".
Five locations were raided across Romania as part of the investigation.
Tate appeared on the Big Brother television show in 2016, but was removed after a video emerged showing him attacking a woman.
Tate, who moved to Romania several years ago with Tristan, has been banned from many social media platforms for misogynistic remarks and hate speech, but was allowed back on Twitter after Elon Musk bought the company.