A French prosecutor has accused four Romanians of trafficking babies in a "baby factory" scheme described by the court as "an underworld to the limit of the mafia".

The prosecutor of Marseilles Criminal Court, Ahmed Chafai, has accused four suspects, aged between 25 and 42, of human trafficking with membership of a conspiracy as an aggravating circumstance. The four men face up to 10 years of imprisonment.

The ring was headed by Ilie Ionita, who sold his three sisters' babies to infertile couples, all members of the French Roma community, with the help of his sisters' partners.

Infertile parents buying babies

Other suspected members of the ring include two infertile couples facing two years in prison for having bought a baby from Ionita and his acolytes for a few thousand euros.

The price, "between 5,000 and 10,000 euros" (£3,615, $5,396 and £7,230, $10,793), kept changing during the interrogation.

One of the accused, Valeriu Rosu received a BMW after a couple received a new born, but said "it was not about receiving money", adding "I took it as an aid for the funeral of my wife's uncle".

However, Mike and Carmen Gorgan, who donated the car, eventually acknowledged that the financial details of the arrangement had been negotiated before the birth of the son of Rosu and Daniela Ionita - one of Ilie Ionita's sisters.

According to Carmen, Rosu even asked them if they knew of other couples who might be interested in buying a baby.

"Whatever the suffering endured by these two families, it is not possible to buy children," the prosecution said.

As part of his plea, Chafai also required a one year sentence for a woman who had sold her baby in Romania - she was not present at the hearing - as well as six months in prison for a young man, also part of the Roma community, who was engaged in negotiations to buy a baby before the transaction failed.

"Other children were sold," Chafai said, adding that the trial was about four pregnancies - which resulted in two successful sales. "We give a family to a child, [but] we do not offer a child a family", he insisted.

Ionita's lawyer, Daniel Roscio, evoked a context of "human misery, and human and intellectual poverty" before portraying Romanians whose "hope is to have a better life in France".