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Alleged gang leader goes on trial accused of smuggling thousands of people across Channel

A man who sought asylum in Britain from Iran will go on trial today in Belgium, accused of leading an organised crime gang that helped smuggle thousands of people across the English Channel.

Hewa Rahimpur, 30, is alleged to have led a gang that criss-crossed Europe, sourcing boats, engines and life-jackets for migrant crossings.

The gang is claimed to have brought the items into Germany, using suppliers in Turkey and China, before later driving them to northern France.

Image:
Hewa Rahimpur being arrested by NCA officers

There the boats were handed over to groups of migrants waiting near the sea, who were given rudimentary instructions about how to use the boats to try to get to Britain.

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Rahimpur is one of 21 people who are facing trial in Bruges. The other 20 were all registered as living in Germany, but Rahimpur had made his home in Ilford, east London.

He was arrested in May 2022 by police from the National Crime Agency.

Rahimpur has been charged with being “a leading person” in a criminal organisation committed to smuggling people across the European Union.

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The court will be told that, operating from Britain, he arranged the logistics of the people-smuggling network, co-ordinating the purchase of boats and other materials and then arranged for them to be delivered to France at just the right time to meet pre-arranged groups of paying customers.

Rahimpur’s arrest was part of a co-ordinated investigation carried out by police in Britain, France, Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands.

Example of seized life jackets. The NCA deployed officers to Germany where more than 60 boats and 900 life jackets, which would have been used to transport people across the Channel, were recovered from a farm near Osnabruck. They will now be examined by NCA specialists.
Image:
Life jackets were seized at a farm near Osnabruck, Germany, in 2022

According to the NCA, a total of 135 boats, 45 outboard engines and more than 1,200 life jackets were seized. Around half the boats were being stored at a single location – a farm in Osnabruck, Germany.

The NCA’s regional head of investigations, Jacque Beer, said the crime group was “one of the most significant criminal networks involved in supplying boats to people smugglers”.

The indictment against Rahimpur, in common with the all defendants, claims they smuggled children and adults, took advantage of “the vulnerable condition” of people, endangered lives and brought “unidentified victims” into the realm of crime.

The allegation says the crimes were so common that they became “a habit”.

In total the operation saw 135 boats, 45 outboard engines and more than 1,200 life jackets seized.
Image:
A total of 135 boats, 45 outboard engines and more than 1,200 life jackets were seized in the operation, according to the NCA

As well as facing a lengthy jail term, and deportation, prosecutors have demanded that Rahimpur repay £157,000 – a sum described as “the capital gains derived directly from the crime”.

Rahimpur arrived in Britain in 2016 and claimed asylum, saying he was an Iranian Kurd who would face persecution if he was returned home. Four years later, he was given leave to remain, and he set up a barber’s shop with a friend.

The business struggled and Rahimpur turned his attention to starting an east London food kiosk, called Manor Park Retails, in 2021. The following year, he was arrested while driving to work.

The trial of the men will be held at the main court in Bruges in front of legal teams who are familiar with allegations of people smuggling.

The case has officially been scheduled for a single day, but the court has been reserved until the end of the week.

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