- Associated Press - Wednesday, December 14, 2011

BUCHAREST, Romania (AP) — Two self-professed witches were detained in Romania on blackmail and extortion charges on Wednesday in a high-profile case involving a TV star and reportedly other public figures.

Police spokesman Christian Ciocan said the two women — who go by the single names of Melissa and Vanessa — approached public figures promising to help them overcome work or love difficulties and to help them break curses.

He said the women initially charged very little, but then, as their victims became hooked on their services, increased their prices.

Mr. Ciocan cited one case in which the victim, who later publicly identified herself as TV personality Oana Zavoranu, handed over 450,000 euros ($593,000) in cash and property in exchange for spells.

He said the witches practiced voodoo and sacrificed animals in graveyards and near rivers, claiming this would protect Mrs. Zavoranu from her mother and in-laws, who had put a curse on her.

The witches, however, claim Mrs. Zavoranu is being vengeful because she asked them to cast a spell on her mother that would kill her, but the mother is still alive.

The ex-wife of businessman Cristi Borcea, one of two owners of Romanian football team Dinamo Bucharest, also was cited as a victim, but she has neither confirmed nor denied the case.

Mr. Ciocan said that if the victims tried to cease payment, the two women would threaten to put a spell on them or disclose details of their personal lives.

Melissa and Vanessa were released Wednesday following a court ruling that they should not be detained awaiting trial. The decision can be appealed.

Many people believe in witchcraft in Romania. President Traian Basescu and his aides have been known to wear purple on certain days, supposedly to ward off evil.

Romania recently has been trying to introduce legislation to limit witchcraft. This month, lawmaker Nicolae Paun, who represents the Roma, or Gypsies, in Parliament, said legislation must be enacted to stop what he called “backward practices.”

Most self-professed witches in Romania are Roma.