The National Crime Agency of the United Kingdom said on Wednesday that the alleged leader of an international criminal enterprise supplying small boats to people smugglers transporting migrants over the English Channel has been apprehended.
The number of migrants crossing the key shipping passage from northern France is at an all-time high, triggering a UK crackdown, which includes contentious measures to deport those who arrive to Rwanda.
Following a joint investigation by UK and Belgian law enforcement authorities, the NCA stated it had detained “alleged small boats kingpin” Hewa Rahimpur, originally from Iran, at his business in east London.
It claimed Rahimpur, 29, was wanted in Belgium on suspicion of being the “leader” of a network that “supplies considerable numbers of small boats to people traffickers,” according to prosecutors.
It posted video of agents snatching the man’s handcuffs as he sat in a black Mercedes automobile.
In a statement, NCA deputy director of investigations Jacque Beer said, “Rahimpur stands accused of being a prominent actor in what we would argue is one of the most substantial criminal networks involved in supplying boats to people smugglers.”
“While many of the criminal gangs involved in illegal crossings are headquartered outside of the UK, we will move quickly to disrupt and dismantle them if we discover they have a UK footprint.”
Rahimpur is accused of obtaining boats in Turkey and transporting them to Germany, Belgium, and the Netherlands.
He allegedly subsequently told members of his organization to transport them to the northern French Channel shore for use by migrants.
He is scheduled to appear in court in London on Thursday to begin extradition proceedings.
According to the NCA, his arrest was the result of close collaboration between the UK agency, the Europol Migrant Smuggling Center, and its Belgian counterparts.
“The Belgian police and judiciary devote a lot of capacity in the battle against human smuggling, and we will continue to do so in co-operation with our allies in surrounding countries,” stated prosecutor Frank Demeester of West Flanders, Belgium.
The NCA has regularly urged the UK maritime industry to keep an eye out for organized criminal groups buying boats and equipment.
“We’re targeting their supply of boats as one of the ways we’re trying to disrupt these people smuggling networks,” Andrea Wilson, the NCA’s deputy director of organized immigration crime, said.