Illegal immigrant who smuggled 10,000 people in boats jailed for 11 years
An illegal migrant granted asylum by the UK has been convicted of being the kingpin of a multi-million pound Europe-wide people smuggling operation that smuggled at least 10,000 people across the Channel in small boats.
Hewa Rahimpur, 30, directed the network from his home in Ilford, east London, sourcing the boats in Turkey and having them delivered to locations in Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands.
He was arrested in London more than a year ago after a police operation that involved officers in Germany, France, Belgium and the Netherlands, as well as the UK's National Crime Agency.
His arrest led to the confiscation of 135 boats, 1,200 life jackets and thousands of Euros in cash as well as 40 arrests.
He was yesterday sentenced to 11 years in prison and fined €80,000 at a court in Bruges, Belgium.
He was convicted in one of the biggest people-smuggling trials held in Europe - with 20 out of 21 defendants found guilty.
Rahimpur arrived in Britain after hiding on a lorry and initially tried to set up a business as a barber but, after that failed he instead opened a small food retailer, selling confectionery.
The business appeared to be booming but rather than sweet treats customers were actually visiting Rahimpur to pay for trips across the Channel using the Hawala banking system, which leaves almost no trail.
Investigators believe Rahimpur and his gang were charged up to £6,000 for those on the boats, making total profits that sometimes soared above £200,000 per crossing.
His gang, in common with other people smugglers, used various social media outlets to find customers but also relied on word of mouth and recommendations from previous passengers.
Rahimpur has claimed throughout to be Iranian but police believe he may actually have lied about his true identity throughout the entire process, and is in fact a well-known figure in the smuggling world.
Rather than Iran it is believed he may actually hail from the Iraqi city of Erbil, in the semi-autonomous Kurdistan region, but like many other Iraqi Kurds, have claimed to be Iranian in order to improve his chances of claiming asylum.
Craig Turner, the deputy director of the UK's National Crime Agency, described Rahimpur as "one of the most significant individuals involved in small boat crossings".
Mr Turner said: "He treated people like a commodity. He just thought about the money, not the safety of the people he was taking across the Channel. That was the business model he profited from.
"He's a big player. There will be people above him in the OCG but within the rankings of that group, he is right up there."
However Mr Turner admitted that arresting and imprisoning Rahimpur would not stop, or potentially even slow down, the flow of migrants crossing the Channel.
He added: "It's like a game of Whac-A-Mole... once we take down one, another one pops up in his place.
"It's like a vacuum. The thing with these smuggling gangs is that it's dynamic. They are ever-evolving."
The police investigation found evidence of a sprawling criminal network that imported boats, motors, life jackets and other equipment from countries including China and Turkey.
The items were stored in various locations, but the fulcrum of their operations was the German town of Osnabruck.
A police raid there recovered a huge haul of equipment destined to be used in cross-Channel smuggling, as well as firearms and cash.
Rahimpur, who claimed asylum in Britain in 2016 after saying he was fleeing persecution in Iran, admitted to processing payments between migrants and smugglers but denied being a central figure, telling the court: "I am not a boss".
Rahimpur has been held in custody in Belgium ever since his extradition from Britain in 2022. He complained about conditions in prison and, at one point, went on hunger strike to protest.