A B.C. man has been charged in what police say was a $40,000-a-week business trafficking women from Hong Kong to work in the sex trade.

Forty-seven-year-old Burnaby resident Jian Feng "Michael" Li appeared in Vancouver provincial court on Wednesday to face one charge of living off the avails of prostitution and four counts of keeping a common bawdy house.

The charges stem from a two-year investigation, during which police say they discovered evidence that Li was sponsoring women from Hong Kong and forcing them to work in four brothels he ran in Surrey, Burnaby, Coquitlam and Richmond.

Eight or nine women were kept in this way as "a modern form of slave" when they arrived in Canada, RCMP Const. Michael McLaughlin told ctvbc.ca.

"These are women were brought here expressly for this purpose," he said.

"From our perspective, this struck us as an obvious case of human trafficking."

But police were unable to secure enough evidence for human trafficking charges under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, McLaughlin said, because of language barriers and the reluctance of some of the women to testify.

The women were all taken into the care of B.C.'s Office to Combat the Trafficking of Persons, which provided them with access to housing, health care and other services.

"We really wanted this to be victim-focused," McLaughlin said. "This isn't about prostitution.... This is very much about exploitation."

Most of the women have returned to Hong Kong since the brothels were raided earlier this year.

McLaughlin said police do not expect anyone else to be charged in connection with the brothels or the suspected trafficking operation.