Andrew Tate, a pugilistic online influencer and self-crowned “king of toxic masculinity,” never made any secret of why he had chosen Romania as his home and business base.
“I like living in a society where my money, my influence and my power mean that I’m not below or beholden” to any laws, Mr. Tate told his fans.
But, like much of what the former kickboxer has told his millions of mostly young male followers on social media — including claims that he is a trillionaire and has 19 passports — Mr. Tate’s proclamation of faith in Romania as a risk-free haven for antisocial behavior reflected more fantasy than reality.
The Romanian authorities arrested Mr. Tate, a citizen of both the United States and Britain, and his younger brother, Tristan, in December on charges of human trafficking, rape and forming an organized criminal group. Held for three months in a jail in Bucharest, the capital, both men, who deny any wrongdoing, are now under house arrest, awaiting trial.
Their home is a sprawling compound down a dingy dead-end street in Voluntari, a town next to Bucharest that is dotted with shiny new office towers and derelict empty lots. It looks more like an industrial warehouse than the lair of a man who boasted of immense wealth and posted videos of himself hanging out in private jets with beautiful women and driving fast cars.
The high-end cars that once crowded the courtyard, including a Rolls-Royce, a Porsche, an Aston Martin and a BMW, are all gone, confiscated by the Romanian authorities. The only vehicle left is a clunky Russian Lada. It was not worth impounding.
Romania still ranks far below most fellow members of the European Union in clean-government rankings. In last year’s Corruption Perceptions Index from Transparency International, only Bulgaria and Hungary were lower. And Romania, according to the State Department’s 2022 report on human trafficking, remains “a primary source country for sex trafficking” in Europe.
But Romania has in recent years made a serious effort to tackle the endemic graft and general lawlessness that long blighted the country — and that apparently attracted Mr. Tate. Before his arrest, he said he liked “living in countries where corruption is accessible to everybody,” and where anybody can pay a $50 bribe to get out of a speeding ticket.
Eugen Vidineac, the Romanian lawyer defending Mr. Tate, said that his client had “said many stupid things,” but that after his arrest, “he stopped thinking about Romania being so corrupt.”
Since Mr. Tate established Romania as his base around 2016, the country’s anti-trafficking agency has expanded its staff and launched a messaging blitz on billboards, television and online, warning women against “lover boys,” traffickers who use seduction as a recruiting technique. Mr. Tate is accused of using this tactic to lure vulnerable women to his compound to perform in sex videos online.
The State Department report said that while Romania did “not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking,” it was “making significant efforts to do so.”
It cited legal changes, a sharp increase in the number of prosecutions for trafficking, stepped up cooperation with other European countries and the establishment in 2021 of a dedicated unit to combat sex trafficking by Romania’s Organized Crime and Terrorism Investigation Directorate, the agency leading the investigation into Mr. Tate.
The directorate last year opened 1,246 new trafficking investigations, double the number in 2021.
Monica Boseff, the president of the Open Door Foundation, a private group that runs a shelter for women fleeing the sex trade, said that Mr. Tate was “not the only misogynist making creepy statements on social media related to women.” But she said he had “miscalculated” in his belief that anything goes in Romania.
“We still have big problems that we need to solve, but there has been real improvement and we finally have hope” that the abuse and exploitation of women are slowly being seen by society and officials as crimes, Ms. Boseff said.
For Silvia Tabusca, a law lecturer at the Romanian-American University in Bucharest who has worked with prosecutors on trafficking cases, Mr. Tate’s big mistake was not so much that he misjudged Romania’s changing legal and social climate, but that he included a young American woman among his alleged victims.
Without pressure from the United States to investigate Mr. Tate, Ms. Tabusca said, “I’m not sure Romanian prosecutors would ever have touched him.”
The United States Embassy in Bucharest, citing “privacy considerations,” had no comment on whether the American authorities had intervened on behalf of a U.S. citizen. The Romanian agency leading the investigation also declined to comment.
Like Ms. Tabusca, Mr. Tate’s lawyer attributed what he described as the unexpected zeal of the Romanian authorities against his client to American intervention, which he said had begun last year after the mother of a young woman from Florida started worrying that Mr. Tate had taken her daughter captive and asked the State Department to do something.
The mother’s appeal, the lawyer said, led the American authorities to request help from Romania and prompted the opening of a criminal investigation in April last year — soon after the daughter told her mother that she was in Romania and living in Mr. Tate’s compound. Investigators bugged the compound, tapped his telephone, and monitored his movements and online communications.
The details of what they found are still secret and, according to the lawyer, who has access to the case file, provide no evidence of criminal wrongdoing, only of debauchery. “My client’s problem,” he said, “is his lifestyle. But lifestyle is not a crime. What matters is what is illegal, not what is immoral.”
Mr. Tate, for his part, offered a characteristically melodramatic explanation for his arrest. A day after armed police officers stormed his compound, he told his followers on Twitter, who now number 6.6 million, that “the matrix sent their agents.” The “matrix” is Mr. Tate’s catchall designation for what he sees as a conspiracy by “woke” corporate elites, mainstream politicians and feminists to emasculate men.
Prosecutors accuse Mr. Tate of luring women to his compound and then putting them to work under duress as performers on pornographic webcams. The lawyer said that Mr. Tate’s residence had no webcam studios and that his client had never coerced anyone into staying or working there. The Tate brothers, he said, “are famous; they are rich; they are young and beautiful,” adding: “What would be their interest in forcing women to act as slaves?”
The only people living in the compound, the lawyer said, were the brothers and their various girlfriends. He acknowledged that some of the women had appeared in videos released by Mr. Tate, but said they had done so of their own free will in the hope that this would help them gain followers on social media. “He never took money from the girls,” the lawyer said.
The now defunct website for one of Mr. Tate’s business ventures — an online academy offering a “Ph.D. Program” in “techniques for getting girls” — gave a different story. It boasted that Mr. Tate “owns and operates strip clubs and webcam studios” and has “TOP QUALITY women living with him and making him money full time.”
The sales pitch for the program, which charged more than $400 for enrollment, promised to teach students “how to build an army of women who are so loyal to you that they allow you to have as many girls as you want.”
Two women whom prosecutors described as victims have insisted that they associated with Mr. Tate of their own accord and were not coerced. A clinical psychologist’s report prepared as part of the case said they had been brainwashed into believing they had a genuine romantic relationship with Mr. Tate.
Ms. Boseff, the Open Door Foundation head, said that most of the more than 1,200 women who had passed through her group’s shelter over the past decade had been entrapped by traffickers masquerading as “lover boys,” and often felt affection and loyalty to them despite being pushed into working as prostitutes.
Mr. Tate, she said, understood that “everybody craves to be loved, to be cared for and to hear words of encouragement” — needs that can make young women who have turbulent home lives particularly vulnerable to exploitation.
Statistics compiled by the anti-trafficking agency show that 74 percent of victims are recruited by acquaintances, friends, neighbors or even relatives.
Since his release from jail into house arrest at the end of March, Mr. Tate has recast himself as a philanthropist, claiming that he has set up a shelter for dogs, rebuilt a Romanian orphanage and is “going to save the world.”
Unconvinced by his newfound commitment to good works, a Bucharest court on Friday extended the Tate brothers’ house arrest for another month.
“Romania is not as corrupt as Tate had thought and hoped,” said Mihaela Dragus, a police officer with Romania’s National Agency Against Trafficking in Persons.
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