BUSTED: Head of London-based people smuggling network jailed after covert NCA investigation 

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The head of an organised crime group that smuggled hundreds of people both into and out of the UK has been jailed for 10-and-a-half years.

Md Mokter Hossain, aged 54, of Gaynes Hill Road, Woodford Green, was arrested following a covert National Crime Agency investigation which included the use of surveillance and undercover tactics.

The investigation – codenamed Operation Symbolry – has now dismantled the London-based crime group operated by Hossain, who used a network of complicit lorry drivers to move people in both directions across the Channel.

These included a number of fugitives who were seeking to leave the UK as they were wanted for serious crimes such as child abuse and murder.

Hossain co-ordinated the movements of drivers and arranged for taxis to drop off migrants at their pick-up locations.

Following his arrest a ledger was found outlining details of the hundreds of men, women and children who had used his services. It also noted the amounts he had charged them. NCA investigators assess he is likely to have made in excess of £1 million from his criminal activity.

Officers also found a document outlining terms and conditions for those who wanted to be transported, including offering refunds if they were caught.

Hossain worked with Noor Ullah, 30, of Church Lane, Leytonstone, and surveillance teams witnessed them having numerous meetings and being in regular phone contact.

In the build up to one smuggling attempt in March 2021, where they planned to break into a lorry at South Mimms service station on the M25 to place people inside, there were almost 200 phone calls and messages between the pair.

NCA investigators moved in to arrest them in May 2021 in an operation which also saw the discovery of a safe house in Bethnal Green, east London, which was used to accommodate people being smuggled.

The property had been converted to accommodate at least 19 people, with bunk beds filling every room. Eight men who were in the UK illegally were found staying there at the time – they were handed to the immigration authorities.

Following his arrest Hossain admitted conspiring with Ullah to move people into and out of the UK between December 2018 and May 2021, but he continued to deny being head of the crime group.

This was rejected by the judge HHJ Sandy Canavan at a Newton hearing, who described his story as a “tissue of lies” and told him that “you have lied time and time again. Dishonesty, greed and wickedness have led you to where you are today.”

On Friday 23 June at Snaresbrook Crown Court Hossain was jailed for 10-and-a-half years.

NCA senior investigating officer Chris Hill said:

“Our investigation has successfully dismantled this people smuggling network from top to bottom, including the organisers, middle-men and the lorry drivers being used.

“We believe they smuggled hundreds of people into and out of the UK, including fugitives wanted for murder and child abuse offences..

“People smugglers don’t care about safety or border security – they just see people as a commodity to be profited from. This can have fatal consequences, which is why tackling it is such a priority for the NCA.”

Operation Symbolry has already seen seven people, including five lorry drivers, convicted of people smuggling offences. The drivers were convicted after their trucks were intercepted by the NCA and migrants were found.

Hossain’s right-hand man Noor Ullah initially denied the charges against him, but on the first day of his trial he pleaded guilty to conspiring to smuggle people out of the UK between September 2020 and May 2021. He was sentenced to two years five months.

The drivers included Romanian national Marius Halmaghe, who was stopped on the A2 in Kent on 1 October 2020, with four migrants. He was sentenced to 31 months in prison.

Three days later on 4 October, Alexandru Fuiorea, a Romanian who had been living in Luton, was arrested as part of an intelligence-led operation on the M2. Eighteen migrants were found hidden in the rear of his truck, which was heading towards Dover. Fuiorea was given a sentence of three-years-and-eight-months.

On 6 November 2020, Mihai-Veleriu Postolache and his partner Roxana Gabriela Stan, both Romanian, were arrested by the NCA after five migrants were discovered in their HGV as it entered the port of Dover. They were later sentenced to 33 months and 14 months respectively.

Sebastian Gabriel Podar, from Tuzrii in Romania, was arrested as part of NCA operation in Dover in December 2020. Nine migrants were discovered in the rear of his HGV, which was booked to go on to a ferry to France. Among them was a man wanted for child sexual offences by Nottinghamshire Police.

Podar had previously been stopped in London, with six migrants found inside his vehicle. He admitted two counts of attempting to facilitate a breach of immigration law, and on 19 May 2021 he was sentenced to six years in prison.

Turkish lorry driver Hakan Zengin was arrested on 21 March 2021 on the M25 with seventeen migrants in his lorry. He pleaded guilty to immigration offences and was sentenced to two-and-a-half years.

Another five people, all licenced mini-cab drivers, have been arrested and charged by the NCA for their alleged roles in transporting migrants to or from lorry pick-up and drop-off points. They are due stand trial in January 2024.

The investigation has been supported by the Metropolitan Police, Kent Police, Surrey Police, Hertfordshire Police, Thames Valley Police, Essex Police and Immigration Enforcement.

Anyone with information about this type of illegal activity, particularly lorry drivers who we know can be approached by organised criminals, should contact the police on 101 or the charity Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555111.

Source: NCA

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