Author- Organised immigration crime
Three British men have been arrested as part of an international investigation into an organised crime group suspected of smuggling over 300 migrants into the UK.
Two of the men were arrested by the National Crime Agency on European Arrest Warrants and now face extradition to France to stand trial.
36-year-old Hojjat Nickhoo, from Enfield, was held as he tried to leave the country via Heathrow airport on Saturday 15 June, while 31-year-old Ayoob Khaleghi was detained following a raid on Nickhoo’s address on 19 June.
They appeared before Westminster Magistrates Court yesterday (24 June) where they were remanded in custody as extradition proceedings continue.
Following the NCA arrests in London, a third British man – a 43-year-old from Islington – was held by the French authorities in Calais.
The trio are accused of being part of a people smuggling network thought to have brought more than 300 migrants to the UK from France in the backs of lorries.
The UK arrests follow an operation led by the French and Romanian authorities, which saw 11 others arrested on 12 June as part of the same investigation.
NCA branch commander Mark Spoors said:
“Gangs involved in organised immigration crime treat migrants as a commodity to be profited out of – they don’t care about keeping them in horrendous conditions and moving them hundreds of miles at a time.
“We are working with international partners to disrupt these criminal networks, attacking their business models and cash flows, and of course seeking to arrest and prosecute those responsible wherever possible.
“Tools such as the European Arrest Warrant are crucial to us in making that happen, allowing both the UK and our European partners to pursue criminals across international borders.”
The latest arrests were co-ordinated by Project Invigor, the NCA-led organised immigration crime task force, working in partnership with French, Romanian and Dutch law enforcement.
The wider criminal network under investigation are suspected of smuggling migrants – mostly of Palestinian, Iraqi, Iranian and Afghan origin – using trucks that belonged to Romanian companies.
The migrants would be transferred to sites in the North of France, Belgium and the Netherlands, before being transported across the Channel to their destination in the UK.
Migrants would be charged between 11,000 and 14,500 euros. The total illegal proceeds amount to approximately 3.4 million euros.
French prosecutors believe they have identified more than 59 active OCG members after initiating a cross-European investigation in August 2018.