Two men have been convicted for their roles in a major conspiracy to smuggle Vietnamese migrants into the UK in the back of lorries.
The crossings, which happened in August and September 2020, were orchestrated by Hai Xuan Le, 33, a Vietnamese national based in Birmingham.
Phone evidence produced by the National Crime Agency showed that Le was part of a wider network of people smugglers, transporting people illegally from Vietnam to the UK.
Some of those making the trip are thought to have relied on a form of debt bondage to fund part or all of their journey, paying back the cost through working illegally in the UK or working in criminal enterprises like cannabis farms.
The NCA was able to evidence at least seven separate attempts to move migrants between 19 August and 4 September involving Le.
From his flat above a nail bar in Grove Lane, Handsworth, Le would use a range of different phone numbers, social media accounts and pseudonyms to arrange for people to be transported to pre-arranged pick up points in Europe and loaded onto HGVs in France, Belgium or the Netherlands, using a complicit transport network.
The trucks, some of which were refrigerated, would then cross by ferry or the Channel Tunnel to Kent, where arrangements would be made to collect those inside.
Taxi driver Habib Behsodi, aged 41 and from Chatham in Kent, was involved in picking up migrants and driving them to the West Midlands, as well as collecting cash payments.
On some occasions Le himself would travel down to accompany migrants, sometimes using genuine and unwitting taxi companies to travel back to the Midlands after collection. Mobile phone data analysis was used by the NCA to map his journeys, corresponding with the movements of migrants’ phones.
Le was arrested at his home address by the NCA in September 2021, having tried to flee the property when he saw officers arrive.
He initially gave the name of Ho Sy Quoc, but through working with the authorities in Vietnam the NCA were able to establish his true identity.
Behsodi was arrested around the same time.
Following a six week trial at Birmingham Crown Court both men were found guilty of conspiring to facilitate illegal immigration. They will be sentenced on 21 February 2023.
A third man, Karzan Mohammed, aged 33 and from Bolton, was found not guilty.
NCA Branch Commander Mick Pope said:
“These two men were part of a people smuggling network who were not just breaching UK border security but also risking the lives of those they transported.
“One text message exchange we recovered as part of this investigation shows migrants being referred to as ‘pork’ – which I think shows the callous nature of those involved.
“For them, the people they were transporting were a just a commodity from which they could profit.
“We have seen how this kind of criminality can so easily lead to loss of life, which is why we are doing all we can to target and dismantle the criminal networks involved.”
Tackling organised immigration crime remains a priority for the NCA, with the agency currently leading over 70 ongoing investigations.
19 December 2022
Note to editors:
Video footage of Le’s arrest is available here: https://spaces.hightail.com/receive/uyIj8CEb3e