Seven people have been arrested as part of a National Crime Agency operation aimed at dismantling an organised crime group involved in transporting hundreds of Albanian migrants to the UK illegally.
A group of smuggled migrants crouched down in the back of a van with their faces covered. Among those detained by National Crime Agency (NCA) officers in a series of raids in south London, Surrey, Oxfordshire and Hartlepool on July 20 was the alleged ringleader of the people smuggling network, which investigators believe used lorries and hired vans to transport individuals from northern France.
The group are alleged to have had contacts across Europe, in France, Germany the Netherlands and Poland.
Over a period of six months between July and December 2020 six such attempts were stopped by Border Force officers carrying out searches of vehicles at the Channel Tunnel terminal in Coquelles, near Calais.
All have subsequently been linked to an organised crime gang under investigation by the NCA.
In one of those attempts, in August last year, two vans were intercepted within half an hour of each other, each carrying 10 Albanian migrants.
The drivers of all the stopped vehicles were arrested and investigated by Immigration Enforcement.
In May 2021 two further attempts linked to the network were stopped, as NCA investigators shared intelligence with French and German counterparts which led to vehicles containing migrants being halted by police before they could reach the coast.
In some cases, migrants are believed to have paid the crime gang between 20,000 and 25,000 pounds to reach the UK. NCA financial investigators have identified numerous bank accounts alleged to belong to the network, each showing tens or even hundreds of thousands of pounds in turnover.
All seven arrested today are now being questioned on suspicion of offences including conspiring to facilitate illegal entry to the UK and money laundering.
The operation, which involved around 100 officers, was supported by the Metropolitan Police and Immigration Enforcement. Approximately 30,000 pounds in cash was also detained.
“We believe these arrests will have significantly disrupted an organised criminal network responsible for smuggling potentially hundreds of people into the UK illegally,” said NCA Branch Commander Richard Harrison.
“The network claimed to provide a top of the range service and charged accordingly, using complicit drivers to transport migrants in hired vehicles.
“This activity represented a significant threat to both the safety of the migrants involved and the security of UK border controls,” he added.
NCA Deputy Director Andrea Wilson said, “This operation shows that people smugglers are right at the top of the NCA’s target list.
“It is a form of criminality that sees people exploited for profit by criminals who have no regard for human life. Those involved in organised immigration crime should know that our officers are working day and night with partners in the UK and abroad to find them, disrupt and dismantle their business models and bring them to justice.”
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