A man who was arrested by the National Crime Agency has been jailed for 11 years for leading a small boats people smuggling network believed to have been involved in smuggling around 10,000 people to the UK.
Hewa Rahimpur, aged 30 and originally from Iran, was directing the network from his home in Ilford, east London, sourcing the boats in Turkey and having them delivered to locations in Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands.
He would then direct other members of his criminal organisation to take them on to the northern French coast, from where migrants would be transported.
Rahimpur was detained by NCA officers in Wanstead Park on 4 May 2022, as part of a joint investigation involving the NCA and Belgian authorities.
The investigation started following the seizure of a number of boats and outboard motors, found by Belgian police in the back of two cars near the Belgian-French border in October 2021.
Phone analysis showed the drivers had been in contact with a UK-based phone number, engaging in message conversations about boat movements and locations for delivery.
The NCA was able to attribute the number to Rahimpur, tracking him down to east London where he was detained pending extradition.
His arrest triggered a Europe-wide operation to bring down other members of the network, which led to arrests in the UK, Germany, France and Netherlands in July 2022.
In Germany 60 inflatable boats and hundreds of life jackets which would have been used by the gang were seized.
In July 2022 a UK court ordered that Rahimpur should be extradited to Belgium to face trial in Bruges. There, prosecutors accused him of being engaged in ‘systematic human smuggling’ using small boats, charging migrants between £3,000 and £6,000 to make the crossing.
On Wednesday 18 October a judge in the Belgian city of Bruges found him guilty and sentenced him to 11 years in prison.
Another 19 people were convicted alongside him and handed jail terms of between 30 months and eight years.
NCA 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.
“And our work is continuing – the NCA alone currently has around 90 investigations ongoing into high-level organised immigration crime, including those using boats and HGVs.
“The criminal networks do not care about the safety of those they transport, and are happy to put people in extremely dangerous and life-threatening situations. This is why disrupting and dismantling them remains a key priority for us.”
18 October 2023