Deadly Brawl Over Maltese Prostitution Ring Traced to Romania’s Criminal Underworld
Deadly Brawl Over Maltese Prostitution Ring Traced to Romania’s Criminal Underworld
A man was stabbed to death in Malta in an alleged dispute over prostitution ring proceeds. Reporters have uncovered the criminal histories and assets of the previously unknown gang behind the fight.
A deadly fight in Malta revealed a range of criminal activity stemming from Romania.
Women who spoke to reporters claim they were pressured into prostitution in the tourist paradise.
The alleged mastermind of the group, along with his brother and mother, own assets worth over a million euros in Romania.
On an unusually warm Monday in early December, two Romanian brothers stood with their cousin outside a popular bar in Paceville, a beachside district in the Maltese town of St. Julian’s known for booze, drugs, and strip clubs.
It was about 3pm when three more men approached their curbside table. Witnesses later told police that a handshake quickly turned into an argument, which escalated to a knife fight. The brawl ended when one of the men who approached lay in the road, bleeding from 28 stab wounds.
The man, Joseff Rivas, died later that day.
The men who were approached — Andrei Dan Tănase, Ionuț Iulian Tănase, and their cousin Ilie Constantin — told police that Rivas and his two companions had been sent from Romania to confront them. They added that they had been attacked as part of a dispute over the profits from a prostitution operation in Malta, according to court documents obtained by reporters.
After a subsequent investigation, police charged the Tănase brothers and their cousin with murder, possessing weapons, pimping, and organized crime. They are now in Maltese prison awaiting trial.
Their attorney declined to comment, citing ongoing legal proceedings. The whereabouts of Rivas’s two companions are unknown.
Using details in the court case, interviews, and public records, reporters from OCCRP, RISE Romania, MaltaToday, and researchers from the Daphne Caruana Galizia Foundation traced the roots of the Malta brawl to a previously unknown gang in Romania’s criminal underworld.
The men in Maltese prison told police that their cousin, 33-year-old Florian Răzvan Tănase, was the mastermind behind the prostitution operation in Malta.
Răzvan Tănase has not been named as a suspect in Malta. When contacted by reporters, Romanian authorities would not confirm or deny whether they were investigating him or his family in connection with the attack, stating that the details “are not public.”
But reporters found that Răzvan Tănase has served time in prison for pimping in Romania, while Rivas and the other men who traveled to Malta have their own rap sheets. So, too, do members of the extended Tănase family, who court records show have been convicted of international drug smuggling and organized crime.
Răzvan Tănase, his brother, mother, and a company he co-owns with relatives, together own a dozen properties and as many luxury vehicles in Romania worth over a million euros. The company, which was established in 2018, has declared losses each year. Reporters could find no legitimate sources of income for the individuals in either Romania or Malta that would justify the assets.
Despite multiple attempts to reach him, Florian Răzvan Tănase did not respond to requests for comment. The defense lawyer for Andrei Dan Tănase, Ionuț Iulian Tănase, and Ilie Constantin declined to comment.
The Paceville neighborhood in St. Julian’s, Malta where the prostitution ring operated.
Prostitution in Paradise
In the summer of 2022, a Romanian woman in her early 20s boarded a plane from Bucharest to Malta. Maria
Maria is a pseudonym, used to protect her from retaliation. OCCRP corroborated her account with evidence from the Maltese investigation and another woman who claimed to work for the gang, and did not want to be quoted.
believed she was going to work as a hostess who would get paid to charm men in the nightclubs of the popular Mediterranean tourist destination.
“Escorting is like going out on a date,” Maria said in an interview.
Soon after she arrived on the island, Maria was told that the job she was promised fell through. Instead she would be expected to work as a prostitute for the ring allegedly operated by Tănase.
Maria said she was kept with several women, who were moved between apartments where they serviced multiple men a day.
“They put you in the room, make you undress, and wait for customers at the door. And if you don’t do this or that, they physically, verbally, or mentally assault you,” Maria said, referring to the people working for Tănase.
When Maria told her handlers she wanted to leave, she said they threatened to send photos of her in sexual poses to her parents in Romania.
“If he had sent pictures of me home, my mother would’ve had heart problems. What was I supposed to do? Should I bury my mother?”
Maria said the women mostly worked from short-term rented apartments, including one called Boutique Apartments, located less than a block from the Paceville bar outside of which the stabbing took place. The property entrance, with its dusty red awning, blends easily on the busy street, and is nearly hidden by a bus stop.
The apartment is pictured on websites advertising sex for hire in Malta.
Rosario Militello, an Italian man living in Malta, said on his LinkedIn page that he was the “owner” of Boutique Apartments. Property records do not support his claim, and he has since deleted the post. Instead reporters found that a company belonging to Militello has a small stake in G&R Boutique Apartments, which rented the space.
According to court records, Militello was arrested in Malta in 2014 for allegedly trafficking three kilograms of cannabis. His assets were frozen, and the case is ongoing.
The following year, Militello was detained again in connection with an arms trafficking investigation. He and another Italian man were arrested during a Europol-run sting operation when they turned up to buy a controlled delivery of weapons. Both men were arrested. Militello, however, claimed to have not been aware of the package’s contents and was released.
A confidential Europol intelligence report, obtained by reporters, found Militello was in communication with the Maltese criminal group that is accused of supplying the bomb that killed journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia in October 2017. There is no indication he was investigated in connection to the case.
Maria said clients paid 80-100 euros per session. She and several relatives of the arrested men said the gang had dozens of women working for them, who together would likely have made thousands of euros a day. After her handlers took a 60 percent cut and deducted charges for rent, food, and basic necessities, Maria said she was left with about 20 percent of what she earned.
The detective in charge of the investigation into the defendants told a pre-trial hearing that the men were expected to send half the profits to Răzvan Tănase in Romania. Despite multiple attempts to reach him for comment, Răzvan Tănase did not respond to questions.
“[Ionuț Tănase] told us that they didn’t like the set-up, and that they didn’t want to continue giving 50 percent of their income to Răzvan, so they started to keep the money for themselves,” testified Inspector Kurt Zahra, of the Major Crime Homicide Squad.
Clients would make bookings by calling numbers posted online. In one apartment where the women were kept, police found a sheet of notebook paper with 24 hand-written phone numbers, some of them with notes in Romanian saying “blonde,” “brunette,” and “redhead.” Reporters found all but one were listed on websites advertising sex for sale.
Ionuț Tănase told police that Răzvan Tănase’s romantic partner, Andreea Panait, managed the clients. Maria told reporters Panait had some 30 mobile phones and ran accounts on multiple websites with names like sexomalta.com and happyescorts.com.
According to Zahra’s court testimony, Răzvan Tănase’s girlfriends and mother would allegedly take bookings over the phone from Romania, telling clients where to go and messaging to confirm their arrival. This meant Răzvan Tănase always knew how much money the operation was bringing in, he testified. Neither Panait nor Tănase’s mother have been charged with any crimes. Despite multiple attempts, neither woman responded to requests for comment.
Until the deadly fight in December, the three Romanian men now in custody in Malta had no criminal records. But reporters found four members of their family had been convicted of serious crimes, including drug trafficking, pimping, organized crime, and bribery.
Răzvan Tănase served nearly two years in prison for pimping in Bucharest. According to the case file reviewed by RISE Romania, he and a previous girlfriend told a woman she would be working in an erotic massage parlor, but instead she was prostituted to 15 men.
The woman who worked with the pair told Romanian investigators the girlfriend would handle the bookings and service clients, while Răzvan Tănase was “the boss,” the case file shows.
Tănase was released from Romanian prison in March 2014. In May the following year, he posted on Facebook that he had moved to Malta, though it’s unclear if he ever actually lived there.
The men Răzvan Tănase’s cousins said traveled to Malta to confront them also have their own rap sheets. The cousins named two of them as Liviu Todica and Razvan Iliescu, who were both convicted of trafficking drugs in Romania in 2018 after they tried to sell an undercover law enforcement officer 1,001 tablets of MDMA, also known as ecstasy.
Todica was sentenced to four years in prison, while Iliescu got three years and four months.
Rivas, who was killed in the fight, spent stints in Romanian prisons for aggravated assault and armed robbery between 2009 and 2020. He was temporarily extradited to the U.K. on separate robbery charges but returned to Romania without facing trial. Reporters could not confirm exactly when he was released.
Răzvan Tănase’s cousins told police that a man named Victor Barbu also traveled to Malta with Rivas to confront them. Barbu had a previous conviction for violence in Romania, after a party in Bucharest descended into a brawl involving a known organized crime gang and deadly weapons. He was sentenced to more than four years in prison for attempted murder in 2019, but was let out early.
Barbu could not be reached for comment.
Several other members of the Tănase family also have long rap sheets of serious crimes, including drug trafficking, pimping, organized crime, and bribery.
Răzvan Tănase’s uncle, Nicolae Iaparnicu, was convicted of trafficking cocaine from Spain to Romania in 2010. According to details laid out by anti-mafia prosecutors in the case file, the cocaine was intended for the son of one of Romania’s most notorious mobsters, Sile Cămătaru.
Nicolae Iaparnicu’s wife, Denisa, along with Răzvan Tănase’s other uncle, Tony Iaparnicu, were also convicted in a 2016 drug trafficking case prosecuted by Romania’s anti-mafia bureau. Both were found guilty of distributing heroin that had been trafficked from Bulgaria to gangs in Bucharest.
According to Romanian court documents, the drug ring they were part of used organized crime tactics to move the drugs, such as coded telephone conversations and counter-tailing, with each person playing a precise, established role.
Reached for comment, Nicolae Iaparnicu did not answer questions about his or his wife’s criminal convictions.
A Luxury Lifestyle
Bogdan Tănase, Răzvan Tănase’s brother, is prolific on social media, starring in his own music videos on YouTube, and regularly posting about his high-flying lifestyle on Facebook and TikTok.
Often, his posts show him driving around in luxury vehicles with vanity license plates. In one TikTok post from June 2022, Bogdan Tanase drives a white Lamborghini Huracan 724, a car worth around 200,000 euros. Like many of the cars that feature in Bogdan Tănase’s videos, it has specially made license plates ending in RZP.
According to ownership records, the flashy Italian sports car was registered to a firefighter who was employed by the Bucharest town hall, where his monthly salary could not have exceeded 1,000 euros. Contacted by a reporter, the firefighter said Răzvan Tănase at one point made payments for the vehicle and requested the vanity plate, and his daughter said she ultimately sold the car to another buyer in Germany. Both declined to explain their source of funds.
The Tănases have bought and sold more than two dozen luxury vehicles over the past 15 years. Ten of those vehicles were owned by Bogdan and Răzvan’s mother, who does not appear to have a driving license.
Several members of the family also own a portfolio of properties in Romania worth almost a million euros, including two flats, eight houses, and a land plot, according to public records.
When Răzvan Tănase was arrested for prostitution in 2012, he claimed to have several businesses, telling investigators: “I have a car wash business, a gambling hall, and I am also a fiddler.”
But Romania’s corporate registry shows no sign of these businesses. The first company where Răzvan Tănase was listed as an owner is a car repair company opened in 2017, and then a construction company opened in 2018. Both are co-owned with relatives and show no profits.
Fact-checking was provided by the OCCRP Fact-Checking Desk.