A suspected “kingpin” of people-smuggling operations across the English Channel has been arrested and is facing extradition.
Iranian Hewa Rahimpur was detained by officers in east London on Wednesday afternoon, the National Crime Agency (NCA) said.
The agency said the 29-year-old, who was living in the eastern London suburb of Ilford, is wanted by authorities in Belgium.
It said he was suspected of being a leading figure in a network that prosecutors said was engaged in ‘systematic human-smuggling’ offences using small boats.
He was due to appear at Westminster Magistrates’ Court on Thursday where extradition proceedings were expected to begin.
According to the NCA, Rahimpur was accused of sourcing boats in Turkey and having them delivered to Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands.
“He then directed other members of his criminal organisation to take them on to the northern French coast, from where migrants would be transported.’’
The investigation began after police seized boats and outboard motors from the back of a car near the Belgian-French border in October 2021.
Jacque Beer, the NCA’s deputy director of investigations, said.
“Rahimpur stands accused of being a major player in what we will say is one of the most significant criminal networks involved in supplying boats to people smugglers.
“Many of the criminal gangs involved in these crossings are based outside of the UK, but where we do find they have a UK footprint we will act swiftly to disrupt and dismantle them.”
One of the ways the NCA has sought to disrupt people-smuggling networks was by targeting their supply of boats.
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Andrea Wilson, the organisation’s deputy director of organised immigration crime, described some of the vessels as nothing short of death-traps, held together using gaffer tape and planks of wood.