Human trafficking kingpin who smuggled 10,000 migrants across Channel jailed

Hewa Rahimpur, 30, has been sentenced to 11 years in prison. Credit: NCA

The ringleader of a people trafficking gang responsible for moving 10,000 migrants in small boat crossings across the English Channel has been jailed for 11 years.

Hewa Rahimpur, 30, was sentenced by a Belgian court on Wednesday for being involved in “systematic human smuggling” by supplying boats to the crime group.

He ran the operation from his bedroom in Ilford, east London, while appearing to be earning a legitimate living by selling sweets and tobacco from a kiosk.

His enterprise was believed to be responsible for nearly 10% of crossings into the UK over a 12 to 18 month period.

People were charged between £3,000 and £6,000 per crossing, with around 40 people crammed onto a small boat each time.

The UK National Crime Agency, which led an investigation into the ring, said the gang would make between £175,000 and £260,000 in profit from each of the dangerous crossings.

Rahimpur's gang was thought to be responsible for 10% of Channel crossings over a 12 to 18 month period. Credit: PA

Rahimpur, an Iranian-Kurdish asylum seeker, was granted leave to remain in the UK in 2020 after coming to the country in 2016,

He was arrested in Ilford, in May 2022 - triggering a Europe wide investigation into the smuggling ring, with 60 boats and hundreds of life jackets seized.

More than 40 people were arrested across four countries in one of the biggest law enforcement operations of its kind.

Investigators learned that Rahimpur sourced boats in Turkey and had them delivered to Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands before they were moved to the north French coast.

As with other smuggling gangs they openly advertised their services on social media, with officials describing the fight to get the entries removed as like playing “whack a mole”.

A group of people, thought to be migrants, who were towed into Kent in August Credit: Jordan Pettitt/PA

Deputy director of the National Crime Agency 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 cooperation of law enforcement across Europe. We’re going to do all we can do to disrupt and dismantle these dangerous people from smuggling individuals into the UK.”

The NCA believe that because Rahimpur paid to get to Britain, probably being smuggled in a lorry, he then decided to get involved in trafficking to take some of the profits for himself.

Describing the gang as treating smuggled migrants' lives as a commodity, Mr Turner told journalists: “These criminal networks do not care about the safety of those that they transport.

“They are happy to put them in extremely dangerous and life-threatening situations, and this is why disrupting and dismantling them remains a key priority for us.”

In July last year a UK court ordered that Rahimpur should be extradited to Belgium to face criminal charges there, despite his false claims to have a partner and child in Britain.

On Wednesday he was jailed by a judge in Bruges alongside 19 other members of the gang, who received prison sentences ranging between 30 months and eight years.

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