NDOLA, Zambia (AP) — A judge in Zambia on Thursday granted bail to eight Croatian nationals accused of child trafficking.
Judge David Makalicha in Ndola, in the mineral-rich Copperbelt province, said the eight should post bail of $20,000.
The eight were listed as Damir Magic, 44, Nadica Magic, 45, Zoran Subosic, 52, Azra Imamovic Subosic, 41, Ladislav Persic, 42, Aleksandra Persic, 40, Noah Kraljevic, 45, and Ivona Kraljevic, 46 when they first appeared in court on Tuesday and pleaded not guilty to child trafficking charges.
They are defended by public defender Kelvin Silwimba. In the charges brought before the court, the Croats are accused of trying to smuggle four children with names into Zambia late last year “for the purpose of exploitation”.
Croatian media reported that four Croatian couples were detained, including Zoran Subosic, guitarist of the well-known band Hladno Pivo, or Cold Beer.
On Thursday, witnesses included an immigration officer and the manager of a boarding house.
Mercy Phiri, an immigration officer at Simon Mwansa Kapwepwe International Airport, said she had been warned that some Croats were planning to leave the country through the airport with black children.
“I warned the officers who were at the airport terminal exit to be aware of Croats who have Congolese children. I was later informed that the same people were at the exit,” she told the court.
Phiri said the Croats had four children identified as Congolese nationals. She said a closer look at the children’s passports showed that they had entered Zambia through the Sakania border crossing used by Zambia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
The Croats presented alleged adoption papers which showed that the couples had not traveled to the Congo but instead stayed in Zambia. They claimed a Congo lawyer helped them adopt the children, Phiri said.
Esthele Banda, the manager of the boarding house where the Croats stayed for five days, told the court she became suspicious after seeing them with young children two days after checking in.
“We noticed that they had black babies when one of the housewives found a crying baby of about one year old,” said Banda.
Banda said that due to language differences, there was a communication barrier between the boarding house staff, children and Croats.
“But after we noticed a crying baby, we helped the couple on how to take care of the baby,” she said, adding that she accompanied them to the airport when they were due to fly back home.
Banda said a man who booked rooms for Croats told her the couples were in Zambia to adopt children from his foundation.
The trial will continue on January 23.