Romanian court keeps Tate brothers in custody pending investigation

FILE PHOTO: A Romanian court ruled on Wednesday on a challenge filed by Andrew Tate

BUCHAREST (Reuters) - Divisive internet personality Andrew Tate and his brother Tristan will remain in custody until the end of March pending a criminal investigation into alleged sex trafficking, a Romanian court said on Tuesday, extending their detention.

The brothers, who have dual U.S. and British nationality, and two Romanian female suspects have been in police custody since Dec. 29. Prosecutors are investigating them for suspected human trafficking, rape and forming a criminal gang to sexually exploit women. They have denied the accusations.

Romanian anti-organised crime prosecutors have asked the courts to extend their detention twice. Prosecutors can ask Romanian courts to extend suspects' detention for up to 180 days.

Andrew Tate, a former professional kickboxer from the British city of Luton, has millions of followers online where he promotes a luxury lifestyle from wealth he says he earned from investments including a pornographic webcam business.

He gained mainstream notoriety for misogynistic remarks that got him banned from all major social media platforms, although Twitter reinstated his account after Elon Musk bought the company last year.

On Tuesday, the Bucharest court extended custody for the Tate brothers, while ruling that the two female suspects, Georgiana Naghel and Luana Radu, be placed under house arrest when their current arrest warrant expires on Feb. 27.

In previous rulings, judges have said the Tate brothers posed a flight risk and their release could jeopardise the investigation.

Defence lawyer Eugen Vidineac told reporters the brothers would appeal an extension. His colleague, Ioan Gliga said prosecutors had not presented new evidence or added more charges.

"After two months of preventative arrest, it is unnatural for the case file to be in the same stage it was two months ago," he said.

Prosecutors have said the Tate brothers recruited victims by seducing them and falsely claiming to want a relationship or marriage. The victims were then coerced to produce pornographic content for social media sites.

They also said Andrew Tate raped one of the victims in March last year, which he has denied.

(Reporting by Luiza Ilie and Octav Ganea; Editing by Peter Graff)