Officers crack down on alleged gang leaders who smuggled hundreds of migrants into the UK | UK news
Investigators have arrested the alleged leaders of an Albanian gang believed to have smuggled hundreds of illegal immigrants into the UK.
The main target, in jeans and a T-shirt, was arrested while sitting enjoying a beer with three friends outside an elegant tapas restaurant near Croydon city center in south London.
Two National Crime Agency officers pounced on the 40-year-old and pinned him to his chair before handcuffing him and putting him in a police car.
The restaurant was ordered to close – the mysterious numbers of the search team can later be seen through the curtains looking for cash and other evidence of money laundering.
The second suspect, 36, smashed the front door of his cream-painted semi-detached home on Brighton Main Road in nearby Burley.
His gravel car was suddenly filled with NCA and Metropolitan Police vehicles, including a forensic truck.
Shortly after their arrival, a woman appeared with a small child on a chair they were pushing. There was a look of thunder on her face.
“I live here,” she told the officers. “What’s going on?”
It is not clear how much they told her, but they got her and the child inside the house before the suspect was led away in handcuffs.
A 26-year-old woman was subsequently arrested at the same address.
Curious locals gathered at the gate, and one gave a quick comment on a video of what looked like a live website.
Four other men, aged between 26 and 44, were arrested in further raids in south London, Surrey and Oxfordshire.
The suspects are believed to have hired vans and vans to smuggle hundreds of illegal immigrants – mostly Albanians – from France through the Channel Tunnel to the UK.
They allegedly ran a dedicated service, charging fees of up to £25,000 each, with links in France, Germany, the Netherlands and Poland.
Last year, French border guards intercepted six vehicles, arrested drivers, removed dozens of migrants and began identifying the gang leaders.
Richard Harrison, NCA Chapter Leader, said: “We believe the arrests will significantly disrupt an organized criminal network responsible for illegally smuggling hundreds of people into the UK.
“The network claimed to provide a service of the highest level and was accused accordingly, of using complicit drivers to transport migrants in rented vehicles.
“This activity represents a significant threat to both the safety of the migrants involved and the security of UK border controls.”
The authority said it has identified bank accounts, some of which hold hundreds of thousands of pounds, that the gang is believed to control.
The agency’s deputy director, Andrea Wilson, said: “This process shows that people smugglers are at the top of the agency’s target list.
“It is a form of criminality in which people are exploited for profit by criminals who have no interest in human life.
“Those involved in organized 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.
“I also have a message today for drivers, commercial or otherwise, who may consider assisting these organized criminal networks by transporting migrants on their behalf.
“Don’t do it. The penalties for those caught are harsh and life-changing. It’s simply not worth the risk.”
Seven suspects are being questioned on suspicion of crimes including people smuggling and money laundering.