The UK’s National Crime Agency has arrested a man in east London who they suspect was a "leading figure in an organized crime group supplying significant numbers of small boats to people smugglers."
The man, who the National Crime Agency (NCA) have named as Hewa R, is originally from Iran but had been living in east London. He was arrested not far from his home during a police operation in Wanstead Park, east London in the afternoon of May 4.
In a video posted by the NCA on Twitter showing Hewa R being apprehended by police officers he is told that he is also wanted by the authorities in Belgium. The Belgium authorities suspect him of being a "leading figure in a network said by prosecutors to be engaged in ‘systematic human smuggling’ offenses using small boats."
The police operation to arrest Hewa R was jointly carried out by the NCA and the Belgium authorities. In October 2021, the teams seized a number of boats and outboard motors found in the back of a car near the Belgian-French border, according to the NCA.
Police say Hewa R sourced these boats from Turkey and then had them delivered to locations across Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands. He is suspected of directing other members of the criminal organization to take them on to the French coast before loading them with migrants in order to cross the Channel towards the UK.
Hewa R was to make a first appearance on May 5 before Westminster magistrates court, where his extradition proceedings to Belgium were to begin.
'A major player in small boat smuggling'
Jacque Beer, the NCA Deputy Director of Investigations said that Hewa R "stands accused of being a major player in [...] one of the most significant criminal networks involved in supplying boats to people smugglers."
At the prosecutor’s office in West Flanders in Belgium, Frank Demeester told the press that "together with [the] smuggling of human beings by refrigerated transport, smuggling by small boats is highest on our priority list."
Demeester added that any smuggling of human beings posed "the ultimate threat to life, so we do everything possible to intervene as soon as possible. Every crossing that can be avoided is a potentially fatal crossing that has been foiled."
Andrea Wilson, the NCA’s Deputy Director of Organized Immigration Crime, added that the agency was working hard to try and disrupt the supply of small boats. They said they had informed the maritime industry, to raise awareness about how criminal organizations might seek to buy small boats and equipment.
Wilson said that some of the vessels they had found attempting to cross the Channel were "nothing short of death-traps, held together using gaffer tape and planks of wood." She called on those in the maritime industry who have suspicions about a sale to "please report it."
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