How 'prolific' human trafficking leader and his gang who smuggled 10,000 across Channel were caught

Sangita Lal reports from Belgium where Hewa Rahimpur was sentenced to 11 years in prison

He's a man who exploited the hope of people fleeing persecution - trying to make a better life - and created a business from their desperation.

Hewa Rahimpur was the leader of one of the biggest criminal groups involved in small boat crossings to the UK, providing smuggling gangs with the supplies needed to transport migrants across the channel.

After a British led investigation across Europe, Belgian police found a number of small boats and outboard motors in the back of two cars, near the Belgium-France border, in October 2021.

Officers were also able to seize mobiles phones, which showed drivers had been in contact with a UK based number, and in May 2022, Rahimpur was arrested.

After Rahimpur's capture, other gang members fell like dominoes as police brought down the criminal network.

The 30-year-old Kurdish asylum seeker directed the operation from his home in East London, where he moved to in 2016 and was given leave to remain in 2020.

During his time as ringleader, Rahimpur helped to smuggle 10,000 migrants to the UK, charging on average between £3,000 and £6,000 per person. On one crossing, he made a £240,000 profit.

Today in court, Rahimpur was sentenced to 11 years in prison in Belgium and fined €80,000 (£69,000)

Hewa Rahimpur (left) being detained in a National Crime Agency sting in east London. Credit: PA

The National Crime Agency Deputy Director of Investigations Craig Turner said: "Hewa Rahimpur's network was, at the time of his arrest, one of the most prolific criminal groups involved in small boat crossings, playing a part in transporting thousands of migrants to the UK.

"Bringing him to justice required the co-operation of law enforcement across Europe.

"It demonstrates the NCA's determination to do all we can to disrupt and dismantle these dangerous people smuggling gangs, who treat human lives as a commodity to be profited from while exploiting the UK border."

But what is so significant about this trial was that Rahimpur was convicted alongside 19 other people, who were all part of his Europe-wide gang.

Crucially, they were involved in the preparations - providing him with boats, motors and life jackets - and this is what police are now trying to focus on; stopping these smuggling gangs by cutting them off from their supplies.

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