Spanish police have broken up an international human trafficking network involved in smuggling hundreds of Iranian illegal immigrants into Britain on commercial flights.
A statement from Europol – which supported the Spanish National Police operation alongside the UK’s Immigration Enforcement agency and the Portuguese Immigration and Borders Service (SEF) – said this morning that 101 people had been arrested after a year-long investigation into the gang’s activities.
Fourteen members of the group were arrested in Malaga in southern Spain, which the network used as a base and main transit country.
Another 42 people were held on suspicion of having sold their Spanish travel documents to the network for up to €3,000.
Separately, 44 Iranian nationals were detained at different European airports carrying forged passports.
The suspected ringleader of the gang was held at London’s Heathrow Airport after a European Arrest Warrant (EAW) was issued by the Spanish authorities for his detention. He is said to have been planning to take a flight to Brazil in a bid to avoid justice.
Searches of properties in Spain resulted in the discovery of seven Iranian nationals, including a five-year-old child, along with stolen passports, computer equipment, blank ID documents, firearms, a top-range sports car and €1,300 in cash.
“The criminal group was perfectly structured and each member had a defined role, ranging from recruiting the irregular migrants in their country of origin, to facilitating the transfers, hosting them in safe houses in Spain, and supplying the travel documents,” Europol said in a statement.
“The network operated from Malaga and used Spain as a transit country. In total, 101 individuals were arrested. The Spanish National Police arrested 14 members of the criminal group in Malaga, as well as another 42 individuals accused of selling their Spanish documents to the members of the organisation for prices ranging from €500 euros to €3,000 euros.”
A spokesperson for Europe’s law enforcement agency said that while it was difficult to estimate the precise number of migrants the gang had trafficked into the UK, it was likely its members had facilitated the illegal travel or some 200 Iranian nationals a year.
The network is said to have charged migrants as much as €25,000 each in exchange fake travel documents, transport and accommodation.
“National Police officers have smashed one of the main international criminal networks, due to the number of people trafficked, which operated in Europe and specialised in trafficking people from Iran to the UK,” Mail Online quoted a Spanish police spokesperson as saying.
“The organisation used Spain, where most of its members were based, as a transit country.”
Europol said it assisted the operation by providing analytical support and organising various operational meetings at its headquarters in The Hague.